On June 18, The Pew Charitable Trusts petitioned U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for emergency action to protect critically endangered right whales from entanglement in fishing gear. Gov. Mills made assertions about our petition in her own letter to the secretary, as you reported on June 26. These assertions need to be addressed.

Our petition relied on sound science; we disclosed all sources. We used the best publicly available science about right whales, including acoustic and sightings data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, models from Duke University and data about right whale prey, which is a well-known indicator of the whales’ location. In designing our proposed closures we relied on the data available, including from the state of Maine, on where lobster fishing occurs.

Both year-round and seasonal closures are already used in New England fisheries, including since 1997 for the lobster fishery in Massachusetts waters. There is no evidence of “the curtain effect,” in which lobstermen set stationary gear along a closure’s boundary, thereby increasing gear density and the risk of whale entanglement.

NOAA acknowledged three years ago that the right whale population is suffering from unusually high deaths; six years ago, the agency last issued rules to protect them from entanglement. Further delay only deepens the problem for right whales and fishermen. Immediate and effective action is the best way to ensure that both right whales and New England’s fishing culture survive – and thrive – far into the future.

Peter Baker

project director, Northern Oceans Conservation, The Pew Charitable Trusts

Brewster, Mass.

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