USA fixed gear fisheries

North Atlantic right whale with fishing gear around pectoral fin
The North Atlantic right whale is on the brink of extinction. Fewer than 500 individuals remain. Originally depleted by whaling, it is entanglement in fishing gear, alongside vessel strikes, which is primarily responsible for their continued decline today.

Home for North Atlantic right whales is off the East coast of the USA and Canada.  These areas overlap with that of several fixed fisheries including gillnets, lobster and crab gear.  Unable to detect the lines used in these fisheries, whales become easily entangled and the result is often lethal but not instant.  Whales can suffer for six months or more as they slowly die from starving or resulting infections due to the entanglement.    

The loss of just one right whale threatens the future of the entire species.  Yet, 83% of all remaining right whales have been entangled at least once, with some individuals encountering gear six or seven times.   Some carry the line with them for years, embedded in the skin or worse, cut through to the bone.  Unable to feed or swim properly the whales often suffer a painful and slow death.

As part of a federally appointed task force, WDC works with the fishing industry as well as State and Federal managers to implement measures in the U.S. which will ensure the right whale’s survival, including the implementation of crucial regulations for fisheries to use sinking line, and reduce vertical lines, which reduces the amount of line floating in the water.  However, changes in right whale distribution call for further measures to reduce this risk and WDC is working to ensure that right whales not only survive, but thrive.