American lobster put on ‘red list’ to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales | Whales

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Lobster nets and traps have become such a threat to the survival of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales that the crustaceans have been “red list” as seafood to avoid by a major fish sustainability guide.

Less than 340 of these whales exist today, including only 80 breeding females. Population is believed to matter decreased by 28% during the last decade.

Seafood Watch, a sustainability guide for consumers and businesses published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, has downgraded Atlantic lobster caught by pot and gillnet fisheries in whale range to avoid”his lowest score.

The new assessment reflects the lack of “prompt and effective management” to mitigate “significant risks” of entanglement and promote the recovery of the species. The lobster fishery in the US is worth around $500m (£430m) a year.

Entanglement in fishing gear used to catch lobster, crab and other species is one of the two main threats to right whales (the other being ship strikes). The whales’ migration route – from their calving grounds in Florida to feeding in Canada – is littered with more than 1m vertical lines of traps and traps, including 622,000 in US waters.

When a whale becomes entangled in fishing gear, the ropes can dig into its skin, weighing it down and preventing it from swimming or feeding properly. Over 80% of right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once.

A lobster caught off Spruce Head, Maine, which is on the migratory route of the North Atlantic right whale. Photograph: Robert F Bukaty/AP

In June, a court ruled that a US federal agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), violated both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act by not rapidly reducing the impacts of lobster fishing gear on North Atlantic right whales.

Other fisheries added to the “red list” include all Jonah crab and other trap, pot and gillnet fisheries. Gillnets are a wall of nets that hang vertically in the water, while traps and pots also have vertical lines extending from the surface.

Conservation lobby group Oceana has urged the US and Canadian governments to implement tougher measures to protect North Atlantic right whales. “It is unfortunate that the government’s failure to update safeguards to protect North Atlantic right whales is having such a severe impact on these [lobster] fishing,” said Gib Brogan, Oceana’s campaign manager.

Brogan said that for the whale population to recover, the average number of people killed or injured by human activities must be less than one per year. “Every vertical fishing line and gillnet is a threat to the remaining whales, which risk becoming entangled every day,” he said.

Strict fishing regulations were needed to avoid interactions and minimize the effects of interactions, he said. To give the species a fighting chance, the National Marine Fisheries Service (also known as NOAA Fisheries) should reduce the number of vertical lines and gillnets in the water and switch to fishing gear without danger to whales, such as ropeless gear, Brogan said.

An entangled North Atlantic right whale off the coast of Florida.
An entangled North Atlantic right whale dragging over 100 yards of heavy fishing rope off the coast of Florida. Photography: AP

“Ordering lobster or crab shouldn’t mean jeopardizing the future of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales,” he said.

Last year, the Marine Stewardship Council came under fire from conservationists for certifying “sustainable” fishing in the right whale flyway.

A NOAA spokesperson said, “The wild-caught American lobster fishery in the United States is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested in accordance with state and federal regulations. In addition, NOAA Fisheries takes an integrated approach’Road to recoveryapproach to protect, conserve and restore endangered North Atlantic right whale species.

In September 2021, NOAA Fisheries released regulations to reduce entanglement in the northeast lobster and Jonah crab fishery, which came into effect in May 2022. In July, it announced proposed changes to better protect right whales, including changes in vessel speed and speed. advice on the use of ropeless fishing gear.

In a statement, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said the Canadian government “continues to take strong action to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales and to help their population recover.”

Measures include closing fishing areas when whales were present, working with fishermen on whale-safe gear, such as low-breaking-strength rope. “So far this season, for the third year in a row, no North Atlantic right whale deaths have been reported in Canadian waters,” he said.

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