USCG and NOAA increase drive to protect North Atlantic right whales

US Coast Guard units in the Northeast and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement personnel are increasing their focus this year on the enforcement of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP), with the intention of detecting and deterring illegally placed fishing gear and thus reducing the likelihood of fatal whale entanglements.

Increased operations will run from May 1st through to June 30th. They will comprise more frequent air and sea patrols in seasonal gear closure areas by NOAA law enforcement personnel, USCG patrol boats, cutter crews, and air assets. USCG units across the First District will conduct at sea inspections of unattended lobster and gillnet gear, with the aim of identifying and effecting the removal of illegally rigged and improperly marked gear.

The North Atlantic right whale migrates each spring to feed in the productive areas off New England’s coast. A variety of species, including humpback and fin whales, are present throughout the spring and summer months. The right whale is an endangered species. In 2017 NOAA documented the fatalities of 17 right whales within US and Canadian waters, out of an estimated population of only 450 right whales in existence, (25% of them breeding females).

In at least seven of these documented whale fatality cases, fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes were deemed to be the main causes of death.