How we can all stop killing whales: a proposal to avoid whale entanglement in fishing gear
Whales are federally protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act; endangered species, such as the North Atlantic right whale, receive additional protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, their regulations have failed to satisfy conservation and animal welfare concerns. From 1990 to 2011 the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis, NARW) population grew at a mean of 2.8% annually. However, population trends reversed since 2011; the species is in decline, with only ∼100 reproductively active females remaining. This failure is driven by vessel collisions and increasingly fatal and serious entanglement in fixed fishing gear, whose rope strength has increased substantially. Chronic entanglement, drag, and associated morbidity have been linked to poor fecundity. Genuine solutions involve designating areas to be avoided and speed restrictions for ships and removing fishing trap ropes from the water column. A trap fishing closure for NARW habitat in the Cape Cod Bay (U.S.) area has been in place seasonally since 2015. 2017 mortalities in Eastern Canada elicited substantive management changes whereby the 2018 presence of NARW in active trap fishing areas resulted in an effective closure. To avoid these costly closures, the traditional trap fishery model of rope end lines attached to surface marker buoys has to be modified so that traps are marked virtually, and retrieved with gear that does not remain in the water column except during trap retrieval. Consumer demand for genuinely whale-safe products will augment and encourage the necessary regulatory changes so that trap fisheries conserve target and nontarget species.