Four conservation groups submitted an emergency petition to the United States National Marine Fisheries Service to halt lobster pot and gillnet fishing in an area off the coast of Massachusetts.

Submitted Dec. 2, the petition makes three requests of the department. It seeks to close an area south of Nantucket to lobster pot and gillnet fishing using vertical lines. It asks to expand an area currently restricted to fishing. And it calls for emergency regulations to expand restricted areas in the Great South Channel.

Conservation Law Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, The Humane Society of the United States and Center for Biological Diversity submitted the document and several other organizations gave signatures in support.

"By acting as requested in this petition, NMFS will provide meaningful protection from one of the most significant threats to the North Atlantic right whale and will aid in ensuring the continued survival and eventual recovery of this highly imperiled species," the petition states.

"Conversely, by failing to act, NMFS will violate its legal obligations under the MMPA and further threaten the species with extinction."

It also calls for “ropeless” fishing in areas it is proposing for closure. A press release against the petition issued jointly by Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden states that such technology is not financially feasible for commercial fishermen.

Whales are drawn to the southern Gulf of Maine following their food source, the petition said. It argues that the majority of whale deaths in recent years are because of vertical lines used by fishermen.

It states that since 2018 six right whales have been found dead in U.S. waters, four of them from entanglements. Losing even one right whale in a year because of commercial activity is beyond what the species can sustain, according to NMFS calculations.

Entanglements have decreased by 90% since new groundlines and trawling-up rules were put in place, according to the press release issued by Pingree, Golden, King and Collins. The elected officials urged NMFS to wait until the federal rulemaking process already underway is finished before considering the petition.

The same conservation groups won in court earlier this year over NMFS. A judge found that the department failed to properly follow the Endangered Species Act when it licensed fisheries by not completing a biological opinion, which establishes requirements the industry must follow to reduce whale deaths. NMFS previously found that the U.S. industry would kill up to three whales per year.

It is unclear if NMFS will take any action the petition is requesting. Maine Department of Marine Resources said the petition does not impact Maine fishermen.