Conservation groups plan to rally here tonight, calling for strong protections for the North Atlantic right whale.

As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service hold a scoping meeting at the NOAA regional headquarters in Blackburn Industrial Park, the groups will rally outside and call on the agencies "to develop strong regulations to protect North Atlantic right whales from deadly fishing gear entanglements."

The meeting, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the NOAA's Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office on 55 Great Republic Drive, is the start of a rulemaking process to amend the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan. Proposals aim to reduce large whales' risk of injury and mortality from entanglement in commercial trap and pot fisheries along the East Coast.

The rally begins at 5:15 p.m. and speakers will offer potential solutions to the problem. Participating groups include the International Fund for Animal Welfare, National Resources Defense Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Animal Welfare Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society and Center for Biological Diversity.

Approximately 400 right whales remain in the world, organizers said.

Last month, advocates and state lawmakers gathered at the State House to push for Congress to pass a U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton bill, the Scientific Assistance for the Very Endangered Right Whales Act, that would authorize funding to develop technology to reduce entanglement and vessel-strike deaths. 

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