Yesterday, Senate democrats, led by Chuck Schumer and Patrick Leahy, assured the extinction of the rapidly declining right whale, inserting a rider into a sweeping 1.7 trillion spending bill. The government-funding bill for the fiscal year, ending September 30, 2023, received over-whelming bipartisan support.
The policy rider calls for continuation of current lobster trap practice up through 2028, cancelling out a recent Federal court decision affirming the National Marine Fisheries Service mandate, ordering employment of weak lobster trap ropes to preempt whale entanglement and restriction of lobster harvesting between October and January.
As is, the court delayed its implementation for two years to allow the lobster industry time to adjust to the new measures.
In my last post, I noted the plight of the North Atlantic right whale, down to just 340 whales. Ominously, no calfs were born in 2022. Fishing gear such as lobster traps and ship collisions are largely responsible for the decline. I worried that political interests might win out.
The measure was initially introduced by Maine Republican Martha Collins.
That Democrat leadership would join is a knife in the back. We expect this kind of thing from Republicans, but not Democrats.
Its implications at large reenforce the priority, worldwide, given to political and pecuniary interests over doing the right thing to protect our environment under assault by climate change propelled by human disregard for diminishing resources, continuing dependance on fossil fuels, and resistance to court remedies mitigating habitat loss and protection of endangered species that include the North Atlantic right whale.
President Biden, who recently donated $35bn of tax payer revenue to the Teamsters retirement fund, hinted his support of Maine lobster employees in ordering 200 lobsters for his recent state dinner bash, honoring French president, Emmanuel Macron. (Not widely reported, the fare wasn’t served-up until 10:30 pm, many of the 300 guests having left.)
Lobster industry advocates contend that the whales do not intrude into lobster fishing areas and that there isn’t any documented instance of entanglement. This is demonstrably false. Observer sightings, aerial reconnaissance, and vessel surveys confirm their intrusion every month of the year for the last ten years!
In 2020, a video documented a right whale breaching in lower Blue Hill Bay, where thousands of lobster traps are fished.
Historically, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has conducted numerous aerial surveys during the fall and winter months in Jordan Basin and around Cashes Ledge and Outer Fall. From this effort, 212 individual right whales were identified in the central Gulf of Maine where Maine lobstermen fish between 2002-2008.
Horribly, the facts reveal that Maine marine mammals, including right whales, get entangled in vertical lines rising to the surface from lobster and crab traps as well as gillnet gear. From 1997 to 2017, at least three right whales were entangled in Maine coastal lobster fisheries, and three more were caught in offshore lobster fisheries in the Gulf of Maine (NOAA).
As most entanglements can’t be traced to their place of origin, a letter from 18 concerned scientists to the Maine Delegation in 2019, highlighted that “the number of North Atlantic right whales in Maine waters, the number of entanglements that are occurring in Maine waters, and the severity of all entanglements and their effects upon the right whale population are all significantly underestimated.”
Their letter also states that the “combined, high lobster trap density and simultaneous whale occurrence will lead to entanglements in any part of the ocean. Right whales are demonstrably occurring in Maine lobster fishing zones, and 87 percent of the U.S. Atlantic lobster fishery falls within Maine waters—representing about 3 million licensed traps and approximately 400,000 vertical lines. Every single vertical line poses an entanglement risk.”
Erica Fuller, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, immediately responded to the spending bill insertion. “With the rate we’ve been killing right whales, extinction is expected to occur between the next 20 to 40 years. In the absence of the new rule, we’ve got more years of unsustainable killing going on.”
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this rider will doom the right whale to extinction,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife. “Even if you got rid of all other sources of mortality, entanglements with fishing gear alone are enough to drive the species to extinction by reducing births and increasing deaths.”
2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which President Richard M. Nixon signed into law in 1972 to protect marine mammals from extinction in the United States.
“What a terrible anniversary present,” said Davenport.