Court Issues Leviathan Ruling In Favor of Right Whales

Photo: NOAA

A federal court in Washington, D.C. handed the highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whale a leviathan victory ruling that the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to open up two areas amounting to 3,000 square miles off the New England coast to gillnet fishing violated the Endangered Species Act.  The Court restored the previous prohibition on the use of gillnets by fishermen in the whales’ critical habitat.

Why This Matters:  There are only 400 North Atlantic Right Whales remaining and 30 have died as a result of ship strikes and gear entanglements since 2017.  In recent years, the areas that the government re-opened to fishing have become increasingly important as gathering and feeding spots for right whales, with up to a quarter of the population spotted in these areas during some seasons of the year.  Gillnets are walls of mesh designed to entangle animals that swim into them — they are also known to entangle, injure, and kill right whales.

Environmental Groups Cheered the Decision

  • Marine Campaigner CT Harry of the International Fund for Animal Welfare told ODP, “This week’s ruling is a resounding win for the North Atlantic right whale, whose numbers hover in the low hundreds and perilously close to the brink of extinction as a result of anthropogenic threats including chronic entanglement resulting from commercial fishing gear and ship strikes.”
  • “Expanded fishing in a right whale hot spot flies in the face of the Endangered Species Act,” said Erica Fuller, a Senior Attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation — one of the groups that brought the case. “This ruling rightfully reverses a dangerous course and will give right whales the protection they need from fishing gear. We cannot afford to lose even one more of these critically endangered creatures.”
  • Steve Mashuda, Managing Attorney for Earthjustice’s Oceans Program explained, “Rather than pull out all the stops to arrest this decline, the Trump administration took a see-no-evil approach and expanded the gauntlet of fishing gear that can harm and kill these whales without considering how this would affect the population. The Court’s decision rejects the government’s attempt to whistle past the graveyard when it comes to protecting this icon of the Atlantic.”

The Court Decision 

The Judge said this was not a close case — that the agency had impermissibly cut corners even though the rule opening up the areas to gillnet fishing had been pending in the agency since 2004.  The opinion opened with a quote from a classic American novel:

“Demonstrating that “there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men,” Herman Melville, Moby Dick 262 (W.W. Norton & Co. 1967) (1851), humans have brought the North Atlantic right whale to the brink of extinction.”

Up Next

Coronavirus Stops Wildlife Trade In China In Its Tracks

Coronavirus Stops Wildlife Trade In China In Its Tracks

The Chinese government announced on Sunday several drastic measures to attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus in China, including China banning the trade of wild animals until the coronavirus epidemic has been eliminated across the country — the ban was deemed necessary because it appears that the disease was transmitted to humans through a “wet” market that traded in game meat.

Why This Matters:  There have long been calls for the Chinese to crack down on illegal wildlife trade — the question is whether the rapid spread of this virus and the fear and disruption it is causing will finally lead to an end to a permanent end to the wild animal trade there

Continue Reading 592 words
Yellowstone’s Wolves: 25 Years After Successful Reintroduction They Are a Star Attraction

Yellowstone’s Wolves: 25 Years After Successful Reintroduction They Are a Star Attraction

In January 1995, the National Park Service undertook a project to re-introduce wolves into Yellowstone National Park — wolves had been driven out early in the 20th century — and from the 14 animals who were relocated from Canada into the Park, there are now 14 packs (more than 100) make the Park their home. 

Why This Matters:  It was hugely controversial at the time, but looking back now, the successful re-introduction shows, once again, the power of the natural world to regenerate if given the chance

Continue Reading 546 words
Most Earthworms Are Invasive, What Does that Mean for Ecosystems?

Most Earthworms Are Invasive, What Does that Mean for Ecosystems?

We generally think of earthworms as beneficial and essential to healthy soils–and in many ways they are! But did you know that much of the United States isn’t actually supposed to have any earthworms? As the Atlantic reported, “Until about 10,000 years ago, a vast ice sheet covered the northern third of the North American […]

Continue Reading 443 words