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In summer 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) delayed new protections for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, drawing criticism from conservation groups. Now, NOAA has announced the introduction of these long-awaited regulations on the lobster fishing industry, which the administration says could reduce whale deaths and serious injuries by 70%. The lobster industry, however, isn’t happy.
Why This Matters: Less than 400 North Atlantic right whales remain, and only about a quarter of them are reproducing females. “The death of even one whale could be the difference between saving North Atlantic right whales and their extinction,” reports the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Additionally, whales are cornerstones of their ecosystems and play an essential role in ocean carbon cycles. Protecting whales is not only crucial to the health of the ocean but can be a win-win for conservationists and governments seeking to protect all lands and waters by 2030.
The new rules aim to prevent whales from becoming lethally entangled in the fishing gear used by the lobster industry. The rules reduce the number of ropes that link buoys to lobster traps and require weaker ropes that can be more easily broken in the case of entanglement. NOAA will also expand areas where fishing with trap rope is prohibited. “The new measure in this rule will allow the lobster and Jonah crab fisheries to continue to thrive, while significantly reducing the risk to critically endangered right whales of getting seriously injured or killed in commercial fishing gear,” said Michael Pentony, the regional administrator of NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office.
However, some lobster fishers have said that new measures will make it more challenging to deliver lobster to consumers. The lobster industry has recently suffered due to volatile foreign markets and the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, which supported some whale protections, has yet to comment on the newly released set of rules.
Some conservationists are also dissatisfied with the rules, saying they don’t go far enough to protect the endangered whales. Gib Brogan, a senior campaign manager for Oceana, says that regulations should keep whales away from trap rope completely.“If there are areas where whales are found or expected to be, that stress needs to be removed,”he said. “We can’t just rely on the theory of weak rope.”
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