FY20 Appropriations Package Does Right by Right Whales

The first North Atlantic right whale calf spotted in winter 2019. The new appropriations package provides vital funding to help keep this little one safe from entanglement.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium / NOAA permit # 20556-01

In a significant victory for our work to protect the North Atlantic right whale from extinction, the FY20 year-end appropriations package included $3 million in funding for North Atlantic right whale conservation. As part of the package, the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill report language directs at least $1 million toward a pilot fishing gear innovation program aimed at addressing the leading threat to North Atlantic right whales: entanglement.

NRDC leads the North Atlantic right whale lobby coalition that advocated to secure these commitments.

Increased funding for North Atlantic right whales could not come at a more important time. Only about 400 of these majestic creatures remain on Earth and their numbers are continuing to decline. Unless effective conservation action is immediately taken, we risk losing this incredible species within mere decades.

Entanglement in fishing gear, and predominantly that used by commercial American lobster and Canadian snow crab fisheries, is the leading cause of North Atlantic right whale deaths and responsible for their overall decline. The number and severity of entanglements is worsening, meaning they are more likely significantly diminish the whales’ health and chance of survival. More than 86 percent of surviving North Atlantic right whales now bear scars of previous entanglements. The stress caused by even a single previous entanglement can prevent a female right whale from successfully having a calf for years afterwards.

The solution? Advance ropeless fishing systems and make all fishing safe for whales.

Support for ropeless fishing is progressing in leaps and bounds. Fishermen have acknowledged that the technology fundamentally works and now needs to be refined to meet the needs of individual fisheries. Ultimately, the speed at which ropeless fishing can be advanced will depend on funding. The $1 million in appropriations funding directed towards a pilot fishing gear innovation program represents vital financial support to advance ropeless fishing systems over the next year.

While it is true that significantly more resources will be needed to ultimately end entanglements and save our North Atlantic right whales, the annual appropriations process has provided a rare glimmer of hope for the species. This year’s package fell short on many environmental priorities—including for wildlife—but it at least did right by our right whales.

TAKE ACTION NOW to help increase funding for innovative solutions to save the North Atlantic right whale from extinction.