Leaders from industry, science and advocacy convened on Capitol Hill this week for a congressional briefing and panel discussion on the North Atlantic right whale extinction crisis. Despite being a busy week in Congress, the room was packed with attendees interested in learning more about the status of the right whale and opportunities for Congress to support the recovery of the species.
NRDC cosponsored the briefing and I had the pleasure of presenting on the panel, which was held in cooperation with Representatives Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Jared Huffman (D-CA). The panel provided a compelling overview of the severe threat posed by entanglement, ongoing and future actions aimed at reducing right whale deaths, and the international cooperation needed to secure the whale’s future.
My co-panelists painted a grim picture of the pivotal point we are at in the history of the North Atlantic right whale, consistently hitting on the hard truth that fewer than 420 whales remain in the wild, and without action, unprecedented threats may push the species toward effective extinction within our lifetime.
I had the honor of ending the conversation on a positive note, which is that while the reality of the right whale crisis is daunting, it is actionable. I highlighted two key opportunities in Congress right now to support right whale conservation:
The first is a bipartisan piece of legislation, the SAVE Right Whales Act (H.R. 1568), which Representatives Moulton and John Rutherford (R-FL) led in introducing last month, and which recently received a hearing in the House Natural Resources’ Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee.
The SAVE Right Whales Act would support right whale recovery by providing a sustained source of federal funding for collaborative projects between states, NGOs, and the fishing and shipping industries to reduce the impact of human activities on the species. The bill enjoys bipartisan support and has endorsed by more than 30 local and national groups, including industry leaders like the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.
The second key opportunity for congressional action that I addressed is through the appropriations process. NRDC and our partners strongly believe that at least $5 million in additional appropriations is necessary for effective and immediate conservation action. In particular, funding is urgently needed to reduce the threat posed by fishing gear entanglement, which caused 85 percent of diagnosable deaths from 2010 to 2015. In my presentation, I highlighted the need for Congress to appropriate increased funding for right whale conservation efforts, including research, development and implementation of ropeless fishing gear; surveys and monitoring; and fishermen education and outreach.
Continued enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for North Atlantic right whale conservation is not simply encouraging—it’s essential. Strong future management and recovery of this iconic species will require urgent action from congressional leaders to enact both the SAVE Right Whales Act and FY20 appropriations language increasing funding for right whale conservation.