On Oct. 23, The Pew Charitable Trusts sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross seeking a response to the petition it submitted to his office June 18 that called for urgent action to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales in U.S. waters.
The right whale population is facing an emergency. Fewer than 400 remain, and most years, far more die than are born. The vast majority of right whale deaths are the result of entanglement in fishing ropes and strikes from ships. So far this year, aerial surveys have spotted three entangled right whales in U.S. waters, despite the suspension of many such surveys because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency that is responsible for protecting right whales, is working on new rules to reduce entanglements. However, any changes would not take effect for several years. The secretary of commerce, however, can act to immediately reduce the risk to right whales—even as NOAA continues its longer-term process—by prohibiting the use of lobster and crab gear with vertical ropes in certain waters off New England when whales are likely to be present.