The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Take Reduction Teams—composed of industry leaders, scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and state and federal officials—advise NMFS on reducing harm to marine mammals from fishing gear. In April, the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (ALWTRT) produced a package of recommendations to prevent harm and death to the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
Traversing the entire length of the US Atlantic Coast, right whales migrate through one of the most industrialized stretches of ocean in the world. With alarming frequency, they fall victim to collisions with vessels and entanglement in fishing gear. In New England, for example, the high concentration of lobster traps and vertical line buoy gear are deadly threats to the whales as they feed and migrate. In order to reduce right whale mortalities and injuries, the ALWTRT has called for a reduction in vertical line traps and for gear modifications to reduce the strength of lines, enabling entangled whales to break free more easily while maintaining the gear’s effectiveness for the intended targets.
Recognizing an urgent need to act, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered (SAVE) Right Whales Act (HR 1568) on May 1, during the first bill markup of the 116th Congress. This legislation, which now awaits a floor vote by the full House, would create a grant program dedicated solely to right whale recovery. This would provide sustained federal funding for scientists, conservationists, and industry to implement steps the ALWTRT has identified and explore other actions to protect right whales.