Right Whale Recovery Faces Roadblocks in Congress

North Atlantic right whales face grave danger in both the choppy waters off the coast and within the storm-tossed chambers of Congress. As vessel strikes and entanglements continue to take a heavy toll on this critically endangered species, factions in Congress are attempting to sink urgently needed conservation measures. The most recent assault came through the appropriations process.

Early in February, amid ongoing negotiations over fiscal year 2024 federal budget legislation, AWI and 40+ environmental and animal welfare organizations sent a letter to leaders in Congress imploring them to reject egregious policy riders that sought to prevent the National Marine Fisheries Service from implementing a rule to extend current large-vessel speed restrictions to smaller vessels in right whale habitat. The letter emphasized that these riders would set a dangerous precedent—using the increasingly harried, chaotic appropriations process to circumvent science-based conservation mechanisms established under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Fortunately, in the end, the spending bills were stripped of these riders.

In February, it was determined that gear entangling a young North Atlantic right whale found dead on Martha’s Vineyard originated from trap/pot buoy lines placed in Maine waters. And in March, the first newborn calf of the season was found dead after an apparent vessel strike—a tragedy that might have been avoided under the proposed speed restrictions. Click here for more on this latest death and how you can join AWI and allies in urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to swiftly finalize a more comprehensive speed restriction rule.

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