North Atlantic right whales almost extinct: US fishing practices must change

A North Atlantic right whale with a green fishing line deeply embedded in its upper jaw, source: Reuters/Marguerita Choy
A North Atlantic right whale with a green fishing line deeply embedded in its upper jaw, source: Reuters/Marguerita Choy

Commercial fishing practices in the United States (US) must change to prevent the extinction of North Atlantic right whales, the administration of President Joe Biden said on Thursday.

North Atlantic right whales are one of the world’s most endangered large whale species, less than 400 individuals are still alive.

An estimated 20 are killed each year in US and Canadian waters by entanglements in fishing gear or by being hit by a ship, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

The US has been trying to protect the whales for decades under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but it hasn’t been able to stop the deaths of the North Atlantic right whales.

“As the population of right whales continues to decline, we must acknowledge that previous efforts have not reduced entanglements,” NOAA said. Late last year, NOAA proposed new regulations on lobster and crab fishermen.

They want fishermen to reduce the number of vertical ropes in the water, add breakaway sections to ropes so whales can break free if they’re tangled and stop using ropes in certain areas during seasonal whale migration.

NOAA expects to finalize those rules on the lobster and crab industry later this summer. They will then start looking at rules for other fisheries.

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