The NOAA technical memo referenced in the Oct. 25 article “NOAA scientists admit a gaffe on risk to whales of lobster trap lines” highlighted the lobster fishery because of its size and scope. Not surprisingly, the industry has come out hard against the memo’s conclusions, especially one related to the 2014 vertical line rule. NOAA concluded that increased whale deaths were unintended consequences of this rule, but later admitted that this was only a hypothesis.
It’s not rocket science to think that if you fish more traps on a trawl, and in deeper water, that stronger rope will be required, and it will be harder for a whale to break free if it becomes entangled, but it would have been better if this had been framed as a hypothesis. It’s also important to remember that there are other trap/pot fisheries operating in U.S. waters, such as the Jonah crab and red crab fisheries, which also use multiple traps on a trawl and heavy rope.
With North Atlantic right whales critically endangered — in large part because of entanglements — now is not the time to ignore the other important facts in the memo. Most notably, since the vertical line rule took effect, right whales and the lobster fishery have moved into deeper and cooler waters in response to climate change, the fishery’s expansion increases the risk of entanglement and the species is facing extinction in the absence of immediate change.
We’ve lost at least 20 right whales in the last 18 months due to entanglements and ship strikes in U.S. and Canadian waters. Unfortunately, whales continue to become entangled in gear that is not marked sufficiently enough to identify the country of origin, the fishery it came from or the area where it was fished, making accurate conclusions about a particular fishery even more difficult. In order to save right whales from extinction, we must stop pointing fingers and take bold action now. We don’t have time to lose.
Jake O’Neill, press secretary
Conservation Law Foundation