Offshore Closures Requested to Save Endangered Right Whales
Friday, June 19, 2020
ROCHESTER, N.H. - Emergency action is being requested to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.
The Pew Charitable Trusts petitioned Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross yesterday to do more to save the fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales, many off New England shores. Peter Baker is the director of Pew's marine conservation work in New England.
He says they're recommending four targeted offshore closures - one year-round off the Massachusetts coast, and three seasonal areas in Gulf of Maine federal waters. Baker explains this would not impact most lobstermen.
"The state of Maine says that 76% of their lobstermen never leave state waters when they're fishing for lobsters," says Baker. "And the vast majority of these closed areas occur in federal waters that are offshore."
Baker says closing these areas would do a lot to preserve the species. Meanwhile, he says state and federal governments can negotiate regulations, such as fishing gear changes.
The state of Maine and local lobster groups claim recent federal right whale recommendations unfairly burden lobstermen.
Scientist Charles "Stormy" Mayo is director of the Right Whale Ecology Program at the Center for Coastal Studies. Mayo describes one way that right whales are most likely to die.
"It's quite clear that the principal causes in the issue of entanglement, the causes of mortality, are fixed fishing gear," says Mayo.
Many fishermen and lobstermen use rope from their buoy to their trap at the bottom of the ocean to retrieve their catch. But the right whales can get tangled in this rope, or fixed gear, often losing their lives.
Mayo says "ropeless" fishing gear technology is being extensively tested in New England.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts
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