Congressional Rider Condemns Right Whale to Extinction

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Monday, February 27, 2023
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933


Congressional Rider Condemns Right Whale to Extinction

In Letter Featured in Science, Experts Decry Entanglement Protections Delay


Washington, DC —In a letter printed in the latest issue of Science, three experts register deep concern with the recent Congressional action to delay for six years long overdue safeguards to prevent entanglement by highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whales in fishing gear. With less than 350 remaining, this congressional intervention may push this population to extinction.

Authored by Peter Corkeron, a former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist and, also formerly, a Senior Scientist at the New England Aquarium, Michael J. Moore, a whale specialist at the Biology Department of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, along with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, the letter declares:

“Entanglement in fishing gear is one of the primary drivers of their morbidity and mortality. In addition, because entanglement stunts the growth of individual NARWs [North Atlantic right whales] and smaller females have fewer calves, entanglements reduce the species’ calving rate for decades.”

The question is whether the remaining population will survive until 2030 without entanglement protections that have been long delayed. Even the 2024 deadline for requiring lobster fishing boats to use break-away lines that lessen the impact of entanglements required a court order in a lawsuit against NOAA by conservationists. The lethal effects of NOAA’s intransigence have now been compounded by Congressional action spurred by the lobster industry.

Ironically, the same month as the congressional rider, NOAA issued its five-year review on the status North Atlantic Right Whale that found the population is continuing to decline and has not met many of the recovery criteria outlined in its recovery plan.

“Americans should be ashamed that North Atlantic right whales are facing extinction as a species,” said Dr. Bennett. “Their ultimate demise is entirely preventable but is driven by the powerful combination of corporate profit and venal parochial American politics.”

Beyond the fate of the right whale population, the Science letter points to the deleterious precedential impact of Congress’ action on other species of wildlife whose continued survival is jeopardized by unrestrained American commercial pursuits:

“Appropriations riders should not overrule established environmental legislation and decision-making that is based on science-based, peer-reviewed, wildlife conservation strategies.”

Dr. Corkeron elaborated, “The other issue that we address in the letter is that the Congressional action is an end-run around the Endangered Species Act. The history of whaling is an object lesson in what happens when we allow politicking to over-ride science-based management. We felt the need to call for protecting the Endangered Species Act from actions like this in the future.”


Read letter from the latest issue of Science

Look at NOAA’s dismal 2022 5-year review of right whale status

Revisit NOAA’s abdication of science on the right whale

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