Statement: New right whale plan appears to only “delay extinction”

The new rules to save the right whale falls short of what NOAA needs to do
August 31, 2021

WASHINGTON -- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released new regulations Tuesday to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale. The new rules require a decrease in the number of rope lines that connect buoys to lobster and crab traps. Weaker ropes will also be mandatory in order to allow whales to more easily break away when entangled. In addition, the plan increases the ocean areas where this form of trap rope fishing will be prohibited or limited.

Environment America and others are calling for the agency to do better. 

Recent estimates put the North Atlantic right whale population at 356, the lowest in decades. Scientists have linked the whale species’ decline to deaths from fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes. North Atlantic right whales, which spend most of their lives swimming along the U.S. and Canadian coastlines, have been dying in unusually high numbers since 2017. 

To stave off extinction, NOAA estimates that we can afford to lose less than one right whale to human-caused mortality per year. However, this year alone, fishing gear entanglements have already killed two right whales. While the 2021 calving season saw the largest number of right whales born since 2015, the 17 new births still fell short of the two dozen new whales that scientists say are necessary to restore the species. 

In response, Environment America Conservation Program Director Steve Blackledge issued the following statement: 

“It’s good to see NOAA taking action to protect the endangered right whale, but unfortunately, the plan that was released today falls short. By our reading, the net effect will be to delay the extinction of this beautiful, massive creature. What we need is a plan to save it. 

“The problem is that these rules would reduce the ‘risk of death and serious injuries caused by entanglement’ by 69%, and that’s not enough to enable this species to rebound. We’re calling on NOAA and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to respond to our petition and use emergency powers to close key right whale habitats to fishing -- most are seasonal closures and one would be year-round. 

“Let’s be the generation that protected the right whale, not the one that watched it slowly disappear.” 

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