The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Sierra Weaver, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-772-3274
Liz Bergstrom, The Humane Society of the United States, 301-258-1455

Court Order Reinstates Safeguards for Endangered Right Whales

Protections against entanglement in fishing gear found essential to avoid 'overwhelming' risk


A federal judge has ordered the National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS) to reinstate rules aimed at protecting critically
endangered right whales, humpbacks and fin whales from deadly entanglements in
fishing gear.

The preliminary
injunction ruling, issued late Friday, came in a case brought by Defenders of
Wildlife and The Humane Society of the
States regarding the agency's decision to roll back
existing protections for these whales while delaying implementation of new, more
protective fishing gear requirements.

"We're delighted that the
court has put interim protections back in place while the fishing industry works
to convert to a long-term solution for imperiled whales," said Sierra Weaver,
staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. "These species, particularly the right
whale, cannot afford any reduction in protections."

In 2007, The HSUS filed
suit to force NMFS to publish long overdue modifications to fishing gear
regulations to protect endangered whales. The government agreed to issue
regulations, but delayed implementation of the most important measure until
October 2008: a requirement that fishermen all along the East Coast stop using
dangerous floating groundlines between lobster and crab pots and begin using
safer lines that sinks to the ocean floor and thus pose a lower risk of
entanglement to whales.

Throughout 2007 and 2008,
the agency planned to phase out existing requirements as they were replaced by
the more protective requirement for sinking groundline throughout the fishery.
Then in early September, the agency stopped mid-stream and decided to wait
another six months - until April 2009 - to implement the sinking groundline

Despite the further delay
in implementing the sinking groundline requirement throughout the fishery, NMFS
proceeded to phase out older measures that require the gear on a more limited
basis in times and areas whales were present, leaving endangered whales
essentially unprotected. The preliminary injunction issued Friday by the U.S.
District Court for the District of
reinstates the older protections in the most at-risk areas until the broad-based
requirements go into effect.

"It's long past time for
NMFS to finally implement the permanent protections for whales they have
promised for years," said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The HSUS. "The
Atlantic right whale is
critically imperiled, and simply could not afford the agency's ill-conceived
proposal to roll back the minimal protective measures now in place."


Since 2002, at least a
dozen whales have become seriously injured or died from entanglement in fishing
gear. The North
Atlantic right whale is a
critically endangered marine animal once hunted to near extinction by whalers.
Now there are fewer than 350 of these whales left. Adult female right whales
reproduce slowly - they give birth to one calf every four years and do not reach
reproductive maturity until age eight. More females than males die in fishing
gear entanglements. Although right whales migrate up and down the East Coast,
the delay in protective measures will primarily put whales feeding in
England at risk. Between
2006 and 2008, NMFS issued emergency protective measures in
England 30 times in the
winter months.

Learn more on what Defenders is doing to help right whales.

Defenders of Wildlife is the premier U.S.-based national conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of imperiled species and their habitats in North America.

(202) 682-9400