As US officials step up to protect the right whale, senators ask about Canadian actions

Over the next two months, federal officials will step up patrols in the northeast Atlantic as they look to do more to save an endangered species.

U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA Law Enforcement personnel will monitor for illegally placed fishing gear in the region through 30 June, according to a USCG news release. The air and sea patrols, which started on Tuesday, 1 May, are being done in accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act to limit interactions with North Atlantic right whales migrating into the region.

Officials estimate only 450 such whales are alive, and just a quarter of those are females in breeding age. Last year, NOAA investigated 17 right whale deaths in U.S. and Canadian waters. Of those, officials determined fishing gear entanglements or boat collisions were responsible for seven fatalities.

Coast Guard officials will also patrol the water and inspect lobster and gillnet gear left unattended to further decrease the chances for interaction with the whales.

While the Coast Guard and NOAA ramp up activities, a group of 11 U.S. senators from the region want to make sure Canada is doing everything it can to prevent right whale deaths as well.

Last week, the lawmakers sent a letter to acting NOAA Administrator Timothy Gallaudet and asked that his agency examine the impact Canada’s Atlantic fisheries have had on right whales and whether Canadian officials are doing all they can to protect the population.

According to the letter – signed by U.S. Sens. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Kristen Gillibrand (D-New York), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Tom Carper (D-Delaware), Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) – officials fear the species may become extinct in 20 years.

The senators note some of the actions Canadian officials have taken, including the rescheduling of the snow crab season in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and requiring fishermen to put less rope in the water. However, they also note that those steps do not match the restrictions U.S. officials have put in place.

The MMPA “requires nations that export fishery products to the United States to be held to the same marine mammal protection standards as domestic commercial fisheries,” the letter stated.

If NOAA takes up the investigation and determines that Canadian officials have not met U.S. standards, the senators want the agency to consider a ban on relevant Canadian seafood exports.


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