NOAA Pressured to Take Emergency Action for Right Whales

The proposed rulemaking to protect North Atlantic right whales from entanglement fails to meet the legal requirements set forth by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and must be immediately withdrawn for substantial revision.

North Atlantic right whales can still recover, but they need the Biden administration to take strong and immediate action

Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

NRDC along with our members and activists submitted more than 33,000 individual comments to NOAA Fisheries (also known as the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS) signaling the proposed rule’s deficiencies. NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project also submitted a comment letter detailing the illegality of the agency’s proposal.

You can read the full letter here.

The Proposed Rule fails on three main fronts:

  1. NOAA’s analysis of entanglement risk did not consider new science on the right whale’s recent precipitous decline. This means the level of risk reduction necessary to save the species is significantly underestimated and the foundation of the document is fatally flawed.
  2. NOAA plans to reduce entanglement risk to right whales over a period of ten years. This is illegal. Moreover, the agency’s strategy remains almost entirely undefined meaning there are no assurances that the level of risk reduction necessary to save the species will ever be achieved.
  3. The risk reduction measures that are included in the proposed rule are entirely inadequate to achieve the level of risk reduction required by law.

"Cottontail" was found dead in February after months of enduring serious injuries resulting from entanglement

Credit: Center for Coastal Studies

There are only about 350 right whales left and fewer than 70 of those are breeding females, the lifeblood of the species. Without immediate action by NOAA to reduce the risk of entanglement in vertical buoy lines, and particularly in those used by the American lobster fishery, we will lose our iconic East Coast whale within the next 10 to 20 years.

The urgency of the situation is only underscored by the heartbreaking news of Cottontail, who was found dead off Myrtle Beach, SC, last week after suffering for months from a serious injury caused by entanglement.

The Biden administration must right the wrongs of the past and take meaningful action to save North Atlantic right whales. NOAA must use its authority under Section 118(g) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to prescribe emergency regulations that will immediately reduce entanglement risk to this species. Emergency regulations that remove vertical buoy lines from the water in areas of high entanglement risk are the only way to immediately protect right whales from further deaths and serious injuries in fishing gear.

About the Authors

Francine Kershaw

Staff Scientist, Marine Mammals, Oceans Division, Nature Program

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