United States Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) recently introduced the Right Whale Coexistence Act. The legislation is designed to establish a new grant program to fund collaborative research between government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and maritime industries in order to reduce human impacts on North Atlantic right whales in the United States. Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA-06) is introducing companion legislation in the House.
Although North Atlantic right whales have been formally protected from whaling since the 1930s, they are vulnerable to vessel collisions and entanglements in fishing gear, the two main causes of injury and death to the species today. Since 2017, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration first declared an Unusual Mortality Event for North Atlantic right whales, the population of the species has continued to dwindle, and the most recent population estimate from 2021 is the lowest estimate in the last 20 years.
“Despite ongoing efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales, the species has struggled to recover, with fewer than 340 whales currently remaining,” Senator Booker said in a statement. “I am proud to introduce this bicameral legislation that will fund a collaborative and comprehensive approach between the public and private sectors to help protect this highly endangered and iconic species.”
“This legislation will put the North Atlantic right whale population on the road to recovery,” stated Senator Blumenthal. “Decades of human exploitation, collisions with marine vessels, and entanglements with fishing equipment have tragically brought these beautiful animals to the brink of extinction. With only a critical number of whales left in our waters, the grant program established by the Right Whale Coexistence Act is urgently needed to preserve our marine ecosystems.”
Senator Carper noted that the bill allows them to recommit “to keeping our oceans healthy, our planet protected, and the right whale safe for generations to come.”
“The New England coast is an important area for North Atlantic right whales to forage and feed. Our coastal communities, in turn, depend on the whales to support a healthy marine ecosystem,” said Congressman Moulton. “This legislation will create new opportunities to save these critically-endangered animals. We can’t let another species go extinct on our watch.”
In addition to establishing a new grant program, the Right Whale Coexistence Act would:
Specify that state and tribal agencies, research institutions, nonprofit organizations, vessel owners and operators, members of maritime industries like fishing, shipping, and boating, and any other entity with the required expertise for North Atlantic right whale conservation may apply for grants.
Direct the Secretary of Commerce to prioritize projects that have the greatest likelihood of reducing impacts from fishing gear entanglement and vessel collisions, while also prioritizing projects that involve private sector stakeholders and will provide economic benefits to small businesses in the United States.
Require periodic reports to Congress on the results and effectiveness of the program.
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