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Federal lawmakers want to save the North Atlantic right whale

A North Atlantic right whale feeds on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass., March 28, 2018. Lawmakers from Massachusetts and New Jersey want to set up a new grant program to help develop technology that assists in saving this rare species of whale from extinction.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

One of New England’s most critically endangered species is getting some love from federal legislators.

On Thursday, Congressional Democrats introduced a bill focused on saving the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, would start a new grant program, making $15 million available each year for the next decade to projects that can reduce the risks of entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes.

North Atlantic right whales live almost exclusively along the eastern coasts of the United States and Canada. Many spend time in late winter and early spring feeding in Cape Cod Bay.

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Due to a number of environmental factors, including entanglement with fishing nets, collisions with fishing boats, and climate change, the species’ population has shrunk by 30 percent over the last decade. Today, just 336 are left.

The proposal would build on new federal regulations issued in August aimed at reducing right whale entanglements in fishing gear. It requires the fishing and lobster industry to use weaker fishing ropes that break when whales get caught in them, and also closed off two fishing grounds — one in the Gulf of Maine in winter and one south of Nantucket in spring. Environmental advocates criticized the measure for being too weak, while the fishing industry criticized it for being too costly for them to comply with.

If the new legislation passes, grants will be made available to state and tribal agencies, research institutions, nonprofit groups, vessel owners and members of maritime industries. The funds can be used to develop technologies and other strategies that can protect right whales from human threats.

“This legislation comes not a moment too soon,” said Erica Fuller, senior attorney at Conservation Law Foundation.

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Dharna Noor can be reached at dharna.noor@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.