WASHINGTON - With approximately 400 North Atlantic right whales remaining, and eight found dead this summer, time is running out for the species. The greatest threat to right whales is entanglement in the ropes associated with commercial lobster and crab traps in the U.S. and Canada.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is currently considering whether to place restrictions on the types of gear used, fishing times and locations, to reduce the currently unsustainable death toll. However, the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund demand NMFS do more than what they are proposing. 

Sharon Young, senior strategist for marine issues at the HSUS said, “We want to ensure that NMFS protects right whales to the best of their ability, despite strong opposition to additional protective measures from many in the fishing industry. Time is running out for these amazing animals and if we don’t act now, we will witness the first extinction of a great whale species in modern history.”   

NMFS is considering whether to require the use of ropes that might break if a whale becomes entangled, potentially allowing the whale to swim free. It is also considering expanding some of the areas along the east coast where fishing is seasonally prohibited during the times when right whales are present in the greatest numbers.    

“NMFS is proposing some good first steps, but we desperately need additional protections for right whales. We are hoping the public will comment before the September 16 deadline to help save them,” Young said.

The groups are also asking for: 

  • Seasonal closures to risk-prone fishing gear in key areas of the Northeast during the time when right whales are feeding in the area
  • Additional funding for research into fishing gear that does not pose a risk of deadly entanglement
  • Mandatory marking of lines used in lobster and crab fisheries that can identify where it was fished so that if the line is found on whales, better target risk reduction measures will be possible
  • Increased enforcement to ensure that fisheries comply with federal mandates

In addition, the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund support H.R. 1568, the SAVE Right Whales Act introduced by Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla., which authorizes $5 million per year for research on North Atlantic right whale conservation over the next 10 years. The House of Representatives included additional funding for right whale conservation in its Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bill (H.R. 3055) and the HSUS and HSLF urge the Senate to do so as well.

The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against NMFS in January 2018 to force the agency to take action to further reduce risk to right whales.

The public has until September 16 to comment to NMFS.

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