Demand Stronger Protections for Right Whales

North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered animals on the planet—and without strong, evidence-based protections, the species will continue to decline.

Time is running out, but you can help the North Atlantic right whale population rebound by urging NOAA Fisheries officials to create immediate fishing closures in areas where right whales are most prevalent, while the agency develops stronger protections in the long term.

Submit a public comment today:

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Copy and paste the below comments to NOAA:

The North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered and needs immediate help to recover. It is NOAA Fisheries’ legal responsibility under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act to protect this species from injury and death in U.S. waters. The greatest threat to right whales in U.S. waters is entanglement in commercial fishing gear. 

NOAA Fisheries estimates that entanglement risk from lobster and crab fisheries needs to be reduced by 60% to 80%. The calculations in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement showing how NOAA Fisheries proposes to achieve that risk reduction rely on an old stock assessment using 2016 population estimates, whereas the most recent population estimates indicate that the North Atlantic right whale has further declined to about 366 animals. So there is no question that a risk reduction target of at least 80%—which accounts for unseen whale mortalities—is required. The alternative measures that NOAA Fisheries released would achieve only 60-69% risk reduction. 

Further, these risk reduction measures rely on an ineffective gear modification called “weak rope” that has not proved to reduce serious injury and death in whales. It is not worth the economic burden on the industry to change to this rope if there is no proven conservation benefit. In addition, the closures outlined in the proposed rule are too small and too short in duration. Specifically, the closure south of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard should be year-round, because right whales have been present nearly every month of the year in that area for the past several years. NOAA Fisheries’ proposed rule simply does not do enough to save the right whale from extinction. 

On the most optimistic timeline, the measures included in the final rule to reduce risk to whales would not be in effect on the water until 2022 or later. While this rule is revised, finalized, and implemented, NOAA Fisheries must immediately implement emergency action designating a year-round closure south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and in three areas in the Gulf of Maine that would be closed seasonally to vertical buoy lines in the American lobster and Jonah crab fisheries. Targeted vertical buoy line closures where right whales interact with this heavy, lethal fishing gear are the fastest and most effective management tools to prevent unlawful deaths and extinction of the North Atlantic right whale. Closures in offshore areas would also minimize the impact on fishermen, because the majority of lobster fishing occurs closer to shore.

North Atlantic right whales can recover if NOAA Fisheries takes swift, effective action to protect them from the vertical buoy lines that entangle and kill them. The proposed rule must be revised, and the final rule must meet the level of risk reduction required by the most recent scientific information. In the meantime, NOAA Fisheries must immediately implement closures to lobster and crab fishing with vertical buoy lines in the areas where right whales concentrate, and help prevent the extinction of this iconic animal. 

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