For Immediate Release, August 31, 2021

Contact:

Kristen Monsell, (914) 806-3467, kmonsell@biologicaldiversity.org

Feds Issue Final Rule to Reduce North Atlantic Right Whale Entanglements in Fishing Gear

WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service released its final rule today modifying regulations to reduce the number of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales killed in lobster gear off the coast of New England.

The rule requires conversion to new gear that uses weaker ropes the agency hopes will reduce the severity of entanglements. But the ability of weak rope to reduce harm from entanglements has not been tested in the field and will not prevent painful entanglements from occurring in the first place.

The rule also includes two new seasonal closures — one in the Gulf of Maine from October to January and one south of Nantucket from February to April — despite evidence that right whales use the area year-round.

“We can’t save this rapidly declining whale population from extinction with half-measures like this,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This plan is better than nothing and a step in the right direction. But we’ve already waited far too long to protect North Atlantic right whales from deadly entanglements. It’s time to get all vertical fishing lines out of important right whale habitat immediately and convert to on-demand ropeless fishing gear.”

This critically endangered population is down to about 360 right whales and has been declining since 2010, suffering an estimated average of 20 deaths and serious injuries per year. The Fisheries Service has estimated that, even after the final rule is in place on the water, U.S. fisheries will continue to entangle more than 9% of the right whale population every year, or roughly 32 right whales per year based on the current population. The agency estimates that these entanglements will result in the death or serious injury of more than three right whales annually.

In the time the Service has taken to issue the rule, right whales’ imperilment has become increasingly dire. The species has suffered a nearly 25% population loss in less than a decade. Entanglements are the leading cause of right whale deaths and serious injuries, which are skyrocketing. They also prevent the whales from reproducing, pushing calving rates to historic lows.

Today’s final rule amends the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan. The agency’s new rule also modifies most existing closures to allow “on-demand” or “ropeless” fishing gear that doesn’t use static vertical buoy lines; expands the existing seasonal closure in Massachusetts Bay; increases the minimum number of traps per trawl; and requires state-specific gear markings.

In April 2020 the Center and allies won a lawsuit challenging the Fisheries Service’s management of the American lobster fishery for failing to protect endangered right whales from entanglements. Per a court order, the agency had until May 31, 2021 to finalize a new biological opinion on entanglement risk.

The Center and allies filed an emergency petition to ensure additional protections are implemented while the Service develops long-term regulations.

The changes to seasonal closures will go into effect 30 days from publication of the final rule and the gear modifications will be required by May 1, 2022.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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