A bipartisan group of congressmen has unveiled a bill that seeks to save the critically North Atlantic right whale.
H.R. 1568, or the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered (SAVE) Right Whales Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton earlier this month, would provide up to USD 5 million (EUR 4.4 million) in grants annually for the next 10 years to develop technology that would reduce the mortality rates for the species.
Some of the grant money would be used to research and develop new commercial fishing gear. Currently, entanglements with fishing gear causes 85 percent of the deaths and 83 percent of whales in existence have scars or other injuries associated with gear encounters, according to statistics from environmental groups.
Right whales have been listed on the Endangered Species Act for nearly 50 years. Conservationists estimate the current population at less than 420, and fear the population will only continue to dwindle as birth rates drop.
“We humans have nearly killed every right whale in existence through our direct and indirect actions over the past two centuries,” said Moulton (D-Massachusetts) in a statement. “Now we have a choice: We can be the generation that brings them back or the generation that allows their extinction. Let’s not miss this unique moment.”
Moulton filed similar legislation in August of last year, but Congress did not take it up before the session ended in January.
Co-sponsors of this year’s bill include three Democrats – U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman of California, Bill Keating of Massachusetts, and David Cicilline of Rhode Island – and three Republicans – U.S. Reps. John Rutherford, Bill Posey, and Brian Mast, all from Florida.
Advocates say gear entanglements and collisions with have led to a drastic reduction in their lifespan. Once expected to live for up to 70 years, the average life expectancy is now under 40 years because of human interactions.
“The SAVE Act is a bipartisan agreement that extinction is not an option,” said Martin Hayden, Earthjustice’s vice president for policy and legislation. “We applaud Rep. Moulton and [ReRutherford for moving us swiftly in the right direction, and we hope the other members of Congress will join them in this urgent work.”
The bill has been sent to both the House Natural Resources and Budget committees for their review. No hearings have been scheduled on the legislation.