With North Atlantic right whales and their hatchlings currently swimming off our shores, south of the islands and in Cape Cod Bay, it is tragic to think that these annual visitors could also disappear in our lifetime. There are only about 336 of these whales left on the planet, and they are getting closer to extinction every year due to human causes, including collisions with ships and entanglements in fishing gear. Scientists tell us that even one human-caused death per year will threaten this species’ chances of survival.
Massachusetts has taken significant steps to reduce the risk of North Atlantic right whales becoming entangled in fishing gear over the past decade. More recently, the state expanded its seasonal restriction on entangling gear to cover the majority of waters in the state, requiring the removal of gear at times and in areas where these whales are likely to be present. However, in our rapidly changing oceans, there is still much to do.
Passing H. 3869, which would establish April 24 as “Massachusetts Right Whale Day,” would be a step in the right direction. This simple yet impactful action would demonstrate the importance of these whales to the people of the Commonwealth, express the Legislature’s commitment to reducing risk to these magnificent mammals, and recognize how North Atlantic right whales have touched the lives of many. Massachusetts residents, including my own.
On the water, a further reduction in the amount of fishing gear allowed in the ocean and requiring vessels to slow down and keep their distance are key to helping save this species and would be a further leap forward. most important. Massachusetts had the opportunity to advance North Atlantic right whale conservation by endorsing a proposal from a group of Massachusetts lobster fishermen to test so-called “wireless” technologies, which make fishing easier without tangling the vertical lines, during the current seasonal closure.
Instead of supporting this proposal or requiring changes, the State Marine Fisheries Division flatly rejected this proposal to fish in restricted waters using whale-safe ropeless gear.
This rejection of a cableless gear proposal is a significant and very disappointing setback. The reasons for refusal provided by the agency were insufficient. We need increased engagement and serious public engagement, not only from the general consumer population, but also from the many men and women connected to the fishing industry. The need for a major public commitment from the state agency to support the development, testing and approval of proposals to test and use ropeless gear in the coming years is also critical to this regard. There is no doubt that the men and women who work in the fishing industry and the North Atlantic right whales can co-exist.
We, and more importantly the whales, don’t have a moment to wait. Time is running out to save these critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from extinction. Current measures are simply not enough to protect them. We and our government agencies need to do more for these rare mammals, so that we don’t see the first major species of whale disappear into the Atlantic Ocean. The government of Massachusetts – from the Governor and Legislature to the leadership of the Division of Marine Fisheries – has a responsibility to prevent extinction with meaningful protections and support for innovations, but they must step up and we must demand it. , before it’s too late for those majestic whales off our shores.
Matt Delaney lives in Pembroke.