U.S. investing $500,000 to help reduce threats to North Atlantic right whales

There has been a recent spray of positive news for the beleaguered right whale.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in the United States announced nearly $500,000 in investments to help reduce threats to the North Atlantic right whales and other marine life off the coast of New England. 

NFWF said in a release that it is working in partnership with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Shell to provide funding to support gear advancement and to improve the region’s ability to transition to on-call gear that does not require a buoy-line.

Marine animals such as right whales often become entangled in lines used to mark the location of fishing nets or traps in the ocean. 

Innovative technology can offer a viable alternative to track gear while reducing risks to whales. 

Last month, NOAA reported that the right whale population is at even lower levels than previously estimated, showing that only 366 North Atlantic right whales exist on the planet, down from estimates of approximately 400.

Canada must commit to no human-caused right whale deaths and achieving short-term recovery goalposts, such as protecting the 94 remaining right whale mothers. This would mean mandatory speed limits for vessels, limits to ocean noise across the right whales’ range, and clear targets to get to ropeless gear. Otherwise, science … shows these magnificent whales will become extinct.

If we are serious about the survival of the species, we have to fill this gap and Fisheries and Oceans and Environment have to step up and take responsibility.

Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF, said the agency is able to bring a comprehensive approach to right whale entanglement through two programs that focus on sustainable fishing.

“These two projects will help identify socioeconomic and other considerations of implementing new standards throughout the region, while at the same time continuing to refine the technical aspects of this gear innovation that holds so much promise for improving the future for North Atlantic right whales.”

The two New England programs are a US$201,207 grant to develop a framework for ropeless fishing in the region and a US$296,816 grant to reduce entanglements of critically endangered marine life with a gear track technology.

The ropeless fishing project will conduct interviews and workshops with experts in the field, synthesize perspectives, and analyze the technical, legal, and socio-economic challenges of ropeless gear and make recommendations for additional project work. 

The entanglement reduction project will develop an innovative gear-tracking technology to be tested in the New England groundfish fishery designed to track gear anchored at the sea floor to surface buoys. 

“NOAA Fisheries has a dual responsibility to maintain sustainable fisheries and conserve protected species such as the North Atlantic right whale,” said Chris Oliver, assistant administrator with NOAA Fisheries. “We are working with a strong coalition of partners, including fishermen, to make investments and find solutions to reduce the entanglement threat fishing gear poses to this iconic species.”

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