BOSTON — In a hearing Thursday in United States District Court, Judge Indira Talwani denied an injunction that would have shut down lobster and gillnet fishing in Massachusetts to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales until a trial seeking that closure takes place.
Richard “Max” Strahan, who identifies himself in court documents as a lobster fishermen, whale watcher and “protector of endangered wildlife species,” sued the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs last April under the federal Endangered Species Act.
North Atlantic right whales are the most endangered great whale on earth, with only around 400 left in existence. Although scientists have determined that less than one right whale a year can be killed by human causes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that 41 died from line entanglement and from being hit by ships in Canadian and U.S. waters from 2017 to 2020.
With half or more of the population in local waters at some point during the year, Massachusetts lobstermen already have taken steps to keep whales from entangling in fishing gear. Those include using weak links that cause line to break when pulled by a whale, sinking line that won’t float up from the bottom when used to connect pots, markings to identify lost gear, large area and seasonal closures of their fishing grounds and aerial surveys to locate whales. As a result of Strahan’s lawsuit, the Division of Marine Fisheries has proposed new regulations to augment existing protections.
But Judge Talwani was not pleased Thursday that the state had not complied with her order to apply for an Incidental Take Permit under the Endangered Species Act. The permit allows the state to continue to permit lobstering and fishing only if they do not harass, harm or kill a specified number of right whales.
“I don’t like having an order out there being disobeyed,” Talwani told the court.
Animal rights groups have said they do not believe that permit can be obtained because of the scientifically determined limit of less than one animal per year killed by human causes.
State Assistant Attorney General Maryanne Reynolds argued Thursday that they were following NOAA’s process in filing the permit application and needed more time. Talwani ordered both parties to come up with a suggested trial date and that the state report back to her on Oct. 15 on their progress in applying for the Incidental Take Permit, with a progress report every 30 days.
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