The federal government plans to invest $82 million over the next three years to develop new technology and methods to rescue the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale from extinction.

Right Whale Deaths

Maine’s lobster industry has long claimed that Atlantic right whales no longer frequent the coastal waters where Maine fishermen set their traps. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

On Monday, the Biden administration characterized the funding as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to protect the right whale, whose numbers have dwindled to fewer than 350 individuals, including fewer than 70 reproductively active females. The money comes from climate and infrastructure funding in the Inflation Reduction Act.

“We are making smart investments – a cornerstone of Bidenomics – to help address the crisis these whales are facing through innovative solutions that minimize the impact on workers in marine industries,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.

More than $35 million will go toward acoustic and satellite whale monitoring and the development of tracking models, $20 million to reduce the risk of ship strikes, and $18 million to develop and test whale-safe fishing gear to reduce entanglements and train fishermen on how to use them.

The funds will support the application of existing technologies, like passive acoustic monitoring, and the development of new technologies, like high-resolution satellite data, to improve understanding of the whale’s changing habitat and help shipping vessels detect and avoid them.

“During the past decade, right whales have changed their distribution patterns, spending more time in areas with fewer protections from vessel strikes and entanglements,” said Janet Coit, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant administrator for fisheries. “The species has experienced a severe population decline.”


About 40% of the funds, or $35.8 million, will be spent on whale monitoring and modeling, including $17.2 million for passive acoustic monitoring to listen for whales along the East Coast and $9.1 million to develop and run a high-resolution satellite tagging monitoring program.

This will be of special interest to Maine’s lobster industry, which has long claimed that right whales no longer frequent the coastal waters where Maine fishermen set their traps because they have followed the copepods they like to eat into colder Canadian waters.

Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said it was too early to say how NOAA’s investments and right whale monitoring plans might affect the regulations facing Maine’s lobstering industry because the federal agency hadn’t shared details of the $82 million grant.

“What we do know is that the current regulations are based on broad assumptions, and we need finer scale data to properly protect right whales while balancing the needs of the lobster industry,” Keliher said. “It is my hope that this funding will move us in that direction.”


Fishermen argue there has never been a right whale death attributed to Maine’s lobster industry. But a lack of historical gear marking makes it difficult to determine where entanglements happen, advocates respond, and many whales that die from entanglement wounds have no rope left on them at all.

About $17.9 million will be invested to support the continued development of on-demand fishing gear technology, or ropeless fishing gear, which would allow harvesters to use remote technologies to locate and retrieve lobster traps without relying on ropes tethered to floating buoys. Maine fishermen have long dismissed the technology as too unreliable, time-consuming, costly and dangerous to be used as a substitute for traditional buoy line traps.

NOAA expects to spend $7.4 million on ropeless fishing gear reimbursements for over 50 vessels through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and $2 million on training for use of these on-demand systems. The rest will be spent on staff support, NOAA said.

About $16.7 million will be used to develop whale detection and avoidance technology to reduce fatal shipping vessel strikes, which Maine fishermen blame for the majority of right whale fatalities, and $5 million on enforcement efforts, including new equipment and enforcement contracts.

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