Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

For Immediate Release

Press Release

Federal Judge Rules That Feds Must Do More to Protect Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales From American Lobster Fishery

WASHINGTON -

In response to a 2018 lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Conservation Law Foundation, and the Center for Biological Diversity, a federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government must take action to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from the American lobster fishery by May 2021. The decision also ordered an analysis of the lobster fishery but failed to prohibit lobster fishing in an area south of Nantucket, Mass., when North Atlantic right whales are present, which the groups had requested.

Oceana campaign director Whitney Webber released the following statement in response to the new ruling:

We commend Judge James Boasberg’s decision and are hopeful that NOAA Fisheries will respond quickly and aggressively to alleviate the continued threat of vertical fishing lines to endangered North Atlantic right whales. These whales cannot wait any longer for the government to do its job, a job it has had ample time to do, and thankfully the law is on the right whale’s side. While we are disappointed that immediate, on-the-water protections were not required, this ruling is a step in the right direction to make the ocean safer for North Atlantic right whales and provide a clear and concrete path for establishing permanent protections for this important species.  

We know that entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with vessels are the two leading causes of death for North Atlantic right whales. Yet our government has turned a blind eye as these whales continue to die. The status quo must change if North Atlantic right whales are to survive. We need to find a way to reduce the number of vertical fishing lines in the water and we must require that vessels slow down to protect right whales. If not, we may become the first generation in centuries to allow a large whale species to go extinct in the Atlantic Ocean.

Yesterday’s decision follows an announcement earlier this month that the Marine Stewardship Council had suspended its certification of the Maine lobster fishery over concerns about the fishery’s impact on North Atlantic right whales.

Background
North Atlantic right whales were named for being the “right” whale to hunt because they were often found near shore, swim slowly and tend to float when killed. They were aggressively hunted, and their population dropped from peak estimates of up to 21,000 to perhaps fewer than 100 by the 1920s. After whaling of North Atlantic right whales was banned in 1935, their population increased to as many as 483 individuals in 2010. Unfortunately, that progress has been reversed.

Entanglement in fishing gear used to catch lobster, snow crab and bottom-dwelling fish like halibut, flounder and cod is one of two leading causes of North Atlantic right whale deaths. Fishing gear from the U.S. and Canada entangles an estimated 100 North Atlantic right whales each year, and about 83% of all North Atlantic right whales have been entangled at least once. Ropes have been seen wrapped around North Atlantic right whales’ mouths, fins, tails and bodies, which slows them down, making it difficult to swim, reproduce and feed, and can kill them. The lines cut into the whales’ flesh, leading to life-threatening infections, and are so strong that they have severed fins and tails, and cut into bone.

Collisions with vessels is the other leading causes of North Atlantic right whale injury and death. North Atlantic right whales are slow, swimming around 6 miles per hour, usually near the water’s surface. They are also dark in color and lack a dorsal fin, making them very difficult to spot. Studies have found that the speed of a vessel is a major factor in collisions with North Atlantic right whales. At normal operating speeds, many vessels cannot maneuver to avoid them, and North Atlantic right whales swim too slowly to be able to move out of the way. This puts them at great risk of being struck, which can cause deadly injuries from blunt-force trauma or cuts from propellers.

To learn more about Oceana’s campaign to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction, please click here.

###

Oceana is the largest international ocean conservation and advocacy organization. Oceana works to protect and restore the world’s oceans through targeted policy campaigns.

Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·


40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·


FDA Panel Recommends Pfizer Booster Shots for People 65+ and Especially Vulnerable

The scientific advisory committee voted down a recommendation for other adults.

Common Dreams staff ·


'What Betrayal Looks Like': UN Report Says World on Track for 2.7°C of Warming by 2100

"Whatever our so-called 'leaders' are doing," said Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, "they are doing it wrong."

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo