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Activists Urge Fishing-Industry Changes to Protect Right Whales

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According to the Center for Coastal Studies, at least eight right whales already have been found dead this year. (NOAA)
According to the Center for Coastal Studies, at least eight right whales already have been found dead this year. (NOAA)
 By Jenn StanleyContact
July 29, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine — Some in Maine feel new federal regulations to protect the right whale will hurt the lobster industry the state relies on. But researchers and conservationists say immediate, drastic action is needed to keep the species from going extinct.

Experts say only about 400 right whales are left on the planet, and their biggest threat is getting caught in lobster and crab lines.

Katharine Deuel, an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts, said action can't come soon enough for the dwindling right whale population, but she understands the plight of the fishing industry too. That's why the organization supports bipartisan legislation that would encourage creation of more whale-friendly fishing gear.

"It would fund research, it would fund improved monitoring and surveillance to know where and when the right whales are,” Deuel said. “And it would be an opportunity for industries that are impacted by potentially upcoming regulations to have funds available to support gear research and gear innovation."

The Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered Right Whales, or SAVE Right Whales Act, was introduced by Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts last spring. It passed in the House with bipartisan support and now goes to the Senate.

Charles "Stormy" Mayo directs the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies. He said he feels for the fishermen who have concerns for the future of the industry, but the right whale could be extinct in decades if humans don't take action now.

"It is really the conflict between an endangered right whale and the fishing industry – that at least parts of which are also endangered,” Mayo said. “So it's a very difficult conflict."

Mayo said some researchers believe functional extinction – meaning not enough individual animals left to repopulate – could be imminent for the North Atlantic right whale if humans don't take immediate and drastic action to protect the species. But he hopes with new federal regulations and legislation, the tide could change for one of the most endangered species of whales.


Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Disclosure: The Pew Charitable Trusts - Environmental Group contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Climate Change/Air Quality, Consumer Issues, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Health Issues, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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