North Atlantic right whales have been further pushed to the brink of extinction, advocates for the critically endangered species said on Tuesday after Maine politicians moved to delay protections for whales in support of the local lobster industry.
Meanwhile, lobstermen were applauding an amendment in the $1.7 trillion federal omnibus spending bill, which would keep existing lobster fishing rules in place for six years.
There are only 340 North Atlantic right whales remaining, and entanglement in fishing gear is a leading cause of death for right whales. The provision in the federal spending bill to hold up new fishing restrictions is “disappointing and potentially devastating for the future of this critically endangered species,” said the New England Aquarium in a statement. “Aggressive measures are needed to save the estimated 340 remaining individuals from extinction, and we cannot afford to put any further regulations on hold.”
“Decades of scientific research from New England Aquarium scientists tells us humans are the primary cause of serious injuries and deaths to right whales, and it is more urgent than ever for Congress to act to enable solutions that can allow this magnificent species to survive while also supporting a strong marine fishing industry,” the Aquarium added.
A federal judge had previously delayed the new fishing restrictions until 2024 to give the government time to craft them.
Maine’s congressional delegation and governor pushed for the six-year delay in the federal spending bill. In a joint statement, they said there has “never been a right whale death attributed to Maine lobster gear.”
“Without our provision, Maine’s iconic industry could be facing a complete shutdown — and the ripple effects across our state would have been widespread,” the Maine delegation and governor later added.
Not all Congress members are on board with the amendment. Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton called it “a sad day for the critically endangered right whales.”
“Compromises have to be made in politics, but there is little room to compromise when we’re talking about imminent extinction of an entire species,” Moulton said in a statement. “The provisions in the omnibus undermine the progress we have been making toward saving the right whales. I’m very disappointed that it has come to this, and I hope that we can find a way to protect right whales and our lobstering industry at the same time.”
Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, said MLA is “very pleased and hopeful that the omnibus spending bill will bring much needed relief to the commercial lobstermen here in the Northeast. We look forward to working with our federal delegation to ensure the passage of this bill that will pause the draconian regulations on the commercial lobster industry.”
Herald wire services were used in this report.