Animal Advocates Say Senate Omnibus Bill Dooms Right Whale to Extinction

Animal advocates accuse US Senate Democrats of selling off the critically endangered northern right whale by including a provision in a year-end funding bill that would allow the lobster industry to Maine to continue using fishing gear that maims the species, often fatally, until at least 2028.

An unprecedented right whale policy endorsement inserted by Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Patrick Leahy of Vermont in the omnibus funding budget released Tuesday effectively dooms the right whale to extinction, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. .

By most estimates, the species numbers 340 individuals, with only 70 breeding females, and its population has declined significantly over the past decade. Conservationists argue that right whale mortality often results from their entanglement in ropes and buoys used to mark lobster traps.

Any delay in the forced introduction of ropeless traps will almost certainly put the right whale on the road to extinction, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement.

“Schumer and Leahy are dying Democrats who heartlessly put special interests above our nation’s magnificent natural heritage,” said the center’s director of government affairs, Brett Hartl.

“Right whales have migrated along New York’s coastline for thousands of years, but…Schumer’s action will make this generation the last to see these remarkable creatures. What a horrible legacy to leave to your grandchildren.

Speaking to the Guardian, a spokesman for the center, Patrick Sullivan, said the decision to overturn by statute an earlier federal court ruling that delayed implementation of changes to fishing practices in the lobster meant the Democrats gave in to industry.

“Apparently that may have put pressure on Senator Schumer and others to take this really appalling approach to the problem,” Sullivan said. “We have always said that the lobster industry needs support in its transition to whale-friendly approaches, but that cannot come at the cost of right whale extinction, which is what this project is about. law.

Last month, Joe Biden signaled his support for Maine’s billion-dollar lobster industry when the president served the crustacean to 200 guests at a White House state dinner for the French president. Emanuel Macron.

The right whale legislation attached to the year-end omnibus bill directs additional whale protection measures “using existing and innovative gear technologies, where appropriate” by December 4, 2028, and that report on the status of the right whale is submitted each year.

Despite some additional funding to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the “amounts remain well below what is needed to address the extinction crisis”, according to the center of biological diversity.

According to Sullivan, the next few years will be crucial for the right whale. “When you see high levels of mortality and low levels of reproduction, it doesn’t take long for a species to get to a point where recovery becomes very, very difficult, if not impossible,” he said.

Studies show that climate change-induced warming in the Gulf of Maine has led to a decline in copepods, the whale’s food source. This likely contributed to a decline in the number of breeding female whales.

In 2009, 39 calves were born, according to a study. No black whale calves were born in 2018.

Over the past decade, the population is estimated to have declined by about 26% from about 500. Mortalities have been attributed to ship strikes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and, increasingly, to entanglement in lobster fishing gear.

“There are very few whales and a lot of gear in the water,” Michael Moore, author of We Are All Whalers, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told The Guardian earlier this month. “We can’t avoid entanglements that are deadly or harmful to their health. For whales to reproduce and for their numbers to recover, they must be fit, large and healthy.

“They’re really sensitive, much more so than other whales,” said Leviathan author Philip Hoare, “and it’s quite sad and kind of crazy that this is happening off the coast of the wealthiest democracy of the planet.”

As politicians resist the rapid implementation of measures to save the whale, it may be up to consumers to take action. In November, the Whole Foods chain pulled lobster from its stores after California-based Seafood Watch added US and Canadian lobster fisheries to its ‘red list’, meaning they are considered high risk. to harm the environment.

Earlier this month, the nonprofit Marine Stewardship Council’s suspension of the certification it granted to Maine’s lobster industry takes effect. The council called the entanglement of whales a “serious and tragic situation”.

Sullivan, the spokesman for the center for biological diversity, said the right whale species could still be saved with immediate action to protect it from entanglement.

“The window is really narrow and this legislation closes it,” he said. “It really puts the right whale on a very bad course and we are very concerned about where things go from here.”

“A four-year delay is devastating not just because of the whales that could have been saved, but because of the inevitable delays between agreement on a policy and its implementation, leading to even more preventable losses,” the official said. Director of Animal Legal Education at George. University of Washington, Kathy Hessler.

“It is time to do what we can to stop harming whales, other aquatic animals and the ecosystem. We have options that we are not using that would protect the whales and allow the industry to continue. There’s no excuse not to try them.

This article was last modified on December 21, 2022. Patrick Leahy is a senator from Vermont, not Maine as an earlier version stated.

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