Right Whales Urgently Need Protection From Entanglement in Fishing Gear

U.S. and Canadian fisheries managers can sustain this rare species—and coastal communities

Right Whales Urgently Need Protection From Entanglement in Fishing Gear
Right whale
The Pew Charitable Trusts

North Atlantic right whales, which migrate along the East Coast from Canada to Florida, were heavily hunted by commercial whalers into the early 20th century. In the decades after whaling ceased, the population slowly but steadily increased, but now that trend has reversed. Since 2010 their numbers have declined, largely as a result of entanglement in fishing gear. The gravest threat is posed by pot and trap gear on the seafloor that is attached to buoys at the surface by vertical lines stretching hundreds of feet through the water.

The right whale population is at risk, but Pew believes that through research, advances in gear technology, and collaboration with diverse stakeholders inside and outside of the fishing community, both the North Atlantic right whale and fishing businesses can survive—and thrive—far into the future.


Time is Running Out to Save Right Whales

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Until recently, the North Atlantic right whale had a promising future. For decades, the population of the species, which gained protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1970, had been growing steadily—albeit slowly, due to how few calves are born each year.



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A collection of resources to help federal, state, and local decision-makers set an achievable agenda for all Americans

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Data-driven policymaking is not just a tool for finding new solutions for emerging challenges, it makes government more effective and better able to serve the public interest. In the coming months, President Joe Biden and the 117th Congress will tackle a number of environmental, health, public safety, and fiscal and economic issues—nearly all of them complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help solve specific, systemic problems in a nonpartisan fashion, Pew has compiled a series of briefings and recommendations based on our research, technical assistance, and advocacy work across America.