Coastal Georgians seeking better protections for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale have a couple more days to make their voices heard by federal officials.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed changes to the laws that regulate how lobster and crab fisheries are permitted to negatively impact the right whales that feed and migrate along the East Coast. A federal comment period is open now to submit feedback on the proposed changes.
One Hundred Miles, a local environmental advocacy group, is encouraging residents to submit comments before the feedback period ends Monday.
The nonprofit set up an action alert to make it easier to navigate the federal comment system. It’s available online at onehundredmiles.org/noaa-comment/#/265.
Fewer than 375 North Atlantic right whales exist today, and at least 46 have died since 2017 because of boat strikes and entanglements in fishing rope.
“When they become entangled, the weight of the lines can cause the whales to drown or become so exhausted that they are no longer able to feed or migrate,” according to information posted on the One Hundred Miles website. “Fishing ropes wrap around their flukes and mouths and cause severe lacerations and interfere with migration, feeding and reproduction.”
According to NOAA, the proposed changes should reduce right whale encounters with fishing rope and gear by 60 percent. But this calculation is based on outdated information, said Alice Keyes, vice president of coastal conservation for One Hundred Miles.
She said the current proposed rule does not do enough to protect the whales.
One Hundred Miles is asking NOAA to implement several changes. Those include taking emergency action now and closing certain areas to the use of vertical buoy ropes while a better package of rules is developed; increasing the duration of closures, including a year-round closure for fishing rope in areas where the right whales have been documented every month of the year; and encouraging greater use of ropeless fishing gear throughout the right whale habitat.
Most hearings and information sessions about the proposed changes were targeted at audiences in the northeastern United States, Keyes said. But the survival of the whales is also a high priority for many on the southern end of the East Coast, where the species travels annually for calving season.
“The North Atlantic right whale is an absolute treasure, and all of us down here in the Southeast really value that animal,” Keyes said. “From a Georgia perspective, we were extremely disappointed there was no outreach to Southeastern states to ask our opinions about these new rules.”
One Hundred Miles is encouraging people in the Southeast to write in and let NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service know how much the issue matters to people living on every part of the East Coast.
“We are hoping as many people will write in as possible so they understand that these animals need our protection,” Keyes said.
The comment period also can help raise awareness of the North Atlantic right whale, she said, and hopefully lead to other changed behaviors and make people more alert to protecting this endangered species.
One Hundred Miles will soon partner with other groups in a campaign to educate consumers on the impact their choices have on the whale.
Calving season is approaching the end off the coast of Georgia and Florida. Since the start of the 2021 season, researchers have identified 15 live calves, according to NOAA.
Those who encounter a North Atlantic right whale are encouraged to call 1-800-272-8363.