Environmentalists filed suit against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Thursday for not cracking down on lobster traps snaring and drowning North Atlantic right whales, the Washington Examiner reports.
The Department of Commerce (DOC) has recognized lobster traps as a cause of death for the whales, but the department has not taken any further action regarding the lobster fishery’s impact under the Endangered Species Act, the lawsuit alleges.
“The National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Biological Opinion finds that the fishery will kill or seriously injure up to 3.25 right whales per year,” the lawsuit says, according to The Washington Examiner. “However, NMFS has not made the requisite negligible impact determination nor authorized the incidental take of right whales by the American lobster fishery. Nevertheless, NMFS continues to authorize operation of the fishery.”
The Biological Opinion referenced was done in 2014 on the threat commercial fisheries posed to the right whale. The agency opinion also found “that the fishery is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of North Atlantic right whales,” the Portland Press Herald reports.
In 2011, the NMFS estimated that 465 right whales were alive. Based on recent sightings data, the whale population seems to be recovering slowly, according to the NMFS.
An unusually high number of whales, 17, were found dead last year due to fishing gear, boat collisions and other reasons that are still under investigation. Only five whale calves are estimated to have been born in the same time period, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups taking part in the lawsuit.
“The law is clear: the federal government must act, and act immediately, to save the right whale from extinction,” Defenders of Wildlife, another litigant, senior attorney Jane Davenport said in a statement. “We don’t need more scientific research — we already know that fishing gear kills and injures whales at an unsustainable rate. It’s time to implement effective and innovative solutions to end this deadly problem.”
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