NOAA Proposes Rule to Curb Right Whale Deaths

After years of delay, NOAA Fisheries released a proposed rule in December 2020 to reduce the number of North Atlantic right whales killed by gear in northeast lobster and Jonah crab fisheries. More than 900,000 buoy lines are used by these fisheries, creating a lethal gauntlet through which whales must navigate. Tragically, 85 percent of North Atlantic right whales bear scars from entanglement in gear, and over half have been entangled at least twice.

photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA
photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, NOAA

Unfortunately, the rule—based on an outdated population estimate—falls short. NOAA’s proposed measures would achieve only a 60 to 69 percent reduction in risk of right whale mortalities versus the 80 percent reduction recommended by the Marine Mammal Commission. The rule also emphasizes a costly transition for fishers to weaker rope. While this gear might allow adult whales to break free if entangled, it leaves lines in the water, it is not proven to protect younger whales, and does not take into account the long-term health effects on whales from any form of entanglement. 

AWI submitted technical comments urging NOAA to redraft this rule using the most up-to-date science and to immediately implement emergency protections for this critically endangered species. We also rallied our supporters to speak up for right whales, generating thousands of comments submitted to NOAA through our action alerts. 

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