The introduction of bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate that seeks to enhance right whale conservation is a positive sign for backers of the plan that’s already received committee approval in the House of Representatives.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. — with Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tom Carper, D-Del. — submitted last week the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered Right Whales Act, which would create a grant program to enhance collaboration with the different entities involved in right whale conservation, ultimately seeking to reduce the harm caused by people to the whales and helping the population recover.
“The North Atlantic right whale was named the official Georgia state marine mammal when I served as minority leader in the Georgia State House, and I am proud that my state’s coast is still home to one of the few known calving grounds for this magnificent animal,” Isakson said in a statement. “I’m glad to introduce the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered Right Whales Act to help learn about how we can better protect this important animal whose numbers continue to dwindle.”
There are no known predators to adult right whales, and no known major illness throughout the population — deaths over the last few years, which have outpaced births, have been attributed to ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements.
The Senate bill, S. 2453, awaits action in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The House version, H.R. 1568, has 48 cosponsors, though the 4th District’s Hank Johnson is the only Georgian. The House Natural Resources Committee ordered the bill to be reported as amended May 1.
Introduction of the Senate bill came just days before environmental advocacy organization Oceana announced a campaign in the United States and Canada, backed by a new report, to work for changes to fishing and shipping that are safer for right whales.
“North Atlantic right whales have been swimming along extinction’s cliff for nearly a hundred years, but events over the last several years might push them over the edge if we don’t act now,” Whitney Webber, campaign director at Oceana in the United States, said in a statement.
“A jungle of roughly one million fishing lines sprawls across right whale migration routes and feeding areas in the U.S. and Canada. We know right whales are dying from fishing gear entanglements and must find a way to reduce the number of lines in the water.”
Among the actions Oceana is calling for is the reduction of vertical lines in fixed-gear fisheries and implementation of fishery closures where necessary, along with modifying gear and fishing practices and expanded speed reduction zones.