By Virginia Riddle
Friday, December 3rd, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the request of Maine lobster fishers to lift fishing restrictions that were set in place to protect North Atlantic right whales.
Lobstering groups claimed that the restrictions would limit the abilities of over 100 of the state’s best fishing boats, however these concerns were met with the fear of right whales getting caught in lobstering nets.
These whales have been listed as an endangered species since 1970, with an approximation of less than 350 remaining. Of those 350, only about 100 are breeding females, leading to a decline in the number of calves born.
Since 2017, the species has been going through an Unusual Mortality Event, with 34 found dead as well as another injured 16. Since the population count is already very low, these findings make up about 10% of the population, and meaning that the death rate is exceeding the birth rate.
Climate change has already been affecting the migration patterns of North Atlantic right whales as they have changed their distribution patterns to follow the shifting locations of their prey. As the shifts have occurred, right whales have moved to places that hold higher rates of them being captured in fishing nets and other supplies.
In fact, NOAA Fisheries estimates that 85% of the population has, at some point, been ensnared in some sort of net. The entrapments have been known to lead to cuts on the whales’ bodies, which are likely to then get infected. On top of this, being trapped in the nets drains the captured whales of time and energy that should be used for feeding and reproducing.
Perhaps therefore, the requests from lobstering groups were wordlessly denied by Justice Stephen Breyer, and why the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the federal government has a “congressionally assigned task of assuring the right whales are protected from a critical risk of death.”