Dipping my toes into the policy pool
*This is the second part of a three-part blog series. You can read the first part of the blog here. *
Just a few short months after I packed everything I owned and drove from California to Massachusetts, I found myself completely overwhelmed and completely fascinated by marine mammal policy work. I know that might sound silly - as soon as I mention ‘policy’ I can often see most eye lids immediately become heavier. I will admit that it may not be the most attractive from the outside, but it has won me over. Despite its tedious moments and the fact that it often moves slower than a snail, I love how I can be the voice for these whales and make a true difference.
When I first started to help WDC’s Executive Director, Regina, with her policy work, the plan was for me to learn slowly and surely. This went completely out the window when one morning, I got a frantic call to meet her in her office where she told me that the Maine Lobster Association (MLA) released their letter withdrawing support from the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (TRT) near-consensus agreement.
What does that mean? I had no idea at first either, but basically the Atlantic Large Whale TRT is a group of representatives, including members of industry, that make a Plan to reduce large whale deaths from human causes, including entanglement in fishing gear. They have to meet as part of the requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Together, they hope to protect fishermen and their livelihood while also finding solutions to reduce risk to large whales, recently focused on right whales.
You see, in April of 2019, the TRT came to a near-consensus agreement (almost unheard of!) of a Plan that could reduce risk of entanglement to right whales. Everyone seemed to be optimistic about all of the collaboration and the steps forward. It came as a surprise when the MLA announced in August that they were no longer agreeing to the Plan and provided their own analysis of data that NOAA provided during the TRT meeting. To get to the bottom of this, Regina wanted WDC to do our own analysis and figure out how they got their numbers. That’s where I came in!
This was exactly the kind of work that I was excited to be involved in. I worked through the right whale entanglement incident data, and together, Regina and I built a comparison to MLA’s claims. We eventually worked this analysis into a joint letter to NOAA with other NGOs! I was very nervous to be part of this process, but submitting that letter was one of the most rewarding experiences I had during my internship.
The data analysis helped support the letter which included
- More specific and wide-spread gear-marking – this could help identify areas where right whales are most vulnerable to getting entangled
- More protected areas – especially in areas of feeding and socializing
- Reducing the amount of rope in the water for all fisheries
- Increased survey and disentanglement efforts
- Increased enforcement
Luckily, once that was over, Regina was not done with me! I began gathering data to support a proposal for gear-marking of fishing gear and wrote the first draft of a letter for WDC and other NGOs to send to NOAA. I felt like I was getting an inside look at policy work with right whales and it renewed my belief that this is the career path I want to keep following.
*Since right whale policy is where my heart is, consider taking WDC's Raise Your RIGHT Hand Pledge. By taking this pledge, we will call you into action when we have new right whale policy actions for you to take to make a difference!*
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North Atlantic right whales are one of the most amazing species we currently have on our planet and we want to keep them here. They are currently facing avoidable harm and we want them to be surviving and thriving!
We can't do it alone though.
Helping right whales is complicated. It is a complex problem with many moving parts. We don't always have one clear and simple action for you to take to make a difference. When we do need your help, it may come up suddenly and need a quick response.
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