NOAA Issues New Right Whale Protection Rule

Right whales cannot wait another ten years

A right whale adult and calf near the water's surface

A right whale and calf in Cape Cod Bay. Photo: Brian Skerry/Steve De Neef

August 31, 2021 (BOSTON, MA) – Federal fishery managers have issued a new rule designed to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from entanglement in lobster gear. Entanglement in fishing gear is a leading cause of death for the whales. Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) released the following statement in response. 

“While this rule is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough or fast enough to stop the precipitous decline of this species,” said Erica Fuller, Senior Attorney at CLF. “We plan to challenge the new rule in court to ensure that right whales recover rather than become an extinction statistic. That means reducing the risk of serious injuries and deaths by at least 80 percent immediately, not fiddling while Rome burns.”  

The rule announced today will only reduce the risk of entanglements in U.S. lobster gear by 60 percent, at best, based on outdated data and reliance on unproven technologies like weak rope. Even though the government admits that a much higher risk reduction target is necessary, it hides behind a “Conservation Plan” that takes 10 years to comply with the law, which is simply unacceptable. To recover this species, the risk of entanglement must be immediately reduced by at least 80 percent.

In a bit of good news, the new rule does include additional closures and allows ropeless fishing in all closed areas. Ropeless fishing offers a solution that allows whales and commercial fisheries to coexist, and it is past time for the government and fishery managers to dramatically expand its use.

CLF experts are available for further comment.