Washington, D.C.

A federal court has rejected a lobster industry attack on the science supporting recent federal efforts to protect critically endangered right whales from deadly entanglements in lobster gear. The industry sued NOAA Fisheries, and Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Conservation Law Foundation intervened to defend the science.

“This decision rejects the lobster industry’s attempts to distract from the overwhelming scientific evidence that entanglements have killed far too many right whales for far too long,” said Erica Fuller, a senior attorney at Conservation Law Foundation. “It took the Fisheries Service five years to finalize a rule that only reduced lethal entanglement risk by 50% when the science shows 90% is needed. This species doesn’t have another five years to wait for the agency to comply with the law.”

The lobster industry argued that a biological opinion issued by the Fisheries Service in 2021 under the Endangered Species Act and a final rule issued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act overstate lobstering’s threats to right whales, resulting in overregulation. In Thursday’s ruling, the court rejected all of the industry’s arguments.

“We are pleased that the court deferred to the agency’s analysis of the best available science showing that lobster fishing is causing unsustainably high rates of right whale deaths and injuries,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “However, for years the agency has deferred to the lobster industry’s demands for weaker fishing regulations. The Fisheries Service now needs to follow its own science and protect the right whale before the clock runs out on this iconic species’ survival.”

North Atlantic right whales are among the world’s most endangered animals, with fewer than 340 individuals alive today. Entanglement in fishing gear is one of the primary threats to the whales; the other major danger is collision with vessels.

“This decision affirms that right whales can’t wait any longer for stronger protections from deadly entanglements in fishing gear,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The science has shown this for years, and it’s disappointing that the agency hasn’t taken more meaningful action, leaving the whales to suffer the consequences. The court’s latest ruling sends another powerful signal that the federal government needs to take bold action to save these critically endangered whales from extinction.”

Right whale mother and calf March 20, 2010
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA Research Permit # 594-1759

When right whales become entangled in fishing gear, they can drown immediately or die over an extended period from injuries, infections or starvation. Chronic entanglements are also affecting right whale calving rates, pushing the species closer to extinction.

Thursday’s decision came about two months after conservation groups won a legal victory in their own case challenging the biological opinion and final rule for failing to do more to protect right whales from lobster gear entanglements, in violation of the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. The parties are in the middle of remedy briefing in that case.

For over 75 years, Defenders of Wildlife has remained dedicated to protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife for generations to come. To learn more, please visit https://defenders.org/newsroom or follow us on X @Defenders.


Media Contact


Blackfeet Nation Birch Creek - hay bails in foreground
Washington, DC

Defenders Supports New Bill Expanding Investments in Soil Health and Wildlife Habitat on Private Land

Defenders of Wildlife today announced its support for H.R. 8754 introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA). If passed, the Saving Our Interconnected Lives (SOIL) Act will amend the Farm Bill to encourage agricultural producers to voluntarily conserve soil and wildlife habitat on their land by prioritizing applications for projects that would address both concerns under the Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
2010.12.27 - Florida Manatee - Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge - Florida - Keith Ramos - USFWS
Washington, DC

Defenders Opposes “Breathtakingly Awful” Attempt to Gut Endangered Species Act with Appalling Rewrite

Defenders of Wildlife opposes one of the worst-ever attempts to gut the Endangered Species Act, the “ESA Amendments Act of 2024.” Sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, the draft bill being heard today in the Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries demolishes many of the core tenets of the landmark conservation bill, warps its foundational reliance on best available science and increases the potential for political interference.