Grants could be used to research new commercial fishing gear

A bipartisan federal bill would fund gear research and development to help save the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

The Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered (SAVE) Right Whales Act (H.R. 1568), introduced by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) earlier this month, would provide up to $5 million in grants annually for the next 10 years to develop technology that would reduce the mortality rates for the species.

Some of the grant money would be used to research and develop new commercial fishing gear. About 85 percent of the population has scars or other injuries associated with gear encounters, according to the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office.

Right whales have been listed on the Endangered Species Act for nearly 50 years. Conservationists estimate the current population at less than 420 and fear the population will only continue to dwindle as birth rates drop.

“We humans have nearly killed every right whale in existence through our direct and indirect actions over the past two centuries,” said Moulton in a statement. “Now we have a choice: We can be the generation that brings them back or the generation that allows their extinction. Let’s not miss this unique moment.”

Moulton filed similar legislation in August of last year, but Congress did not take it up before the session ended in January.

Co-sponsors of this year’s bill include three Democrats — Reps. Jared Huffman of California, Bill Keating of Massachusetts, and David Cicilline of Rhode Island — and three Republicans — Reps. John Rutherford, Bill Posey and Brian Mast, all from Florida.

Advocates say gear entanglements and collisions have led to a drastic reduction in their lifespan. Once expected to live for up to 100 years, the average life expectancy is now under 40 years because of human interactions.

“The SAVE Act is a bipartisan agreement that extinction is not an option,” said Martin Hayden, Earthjustice’s vice president for policy and legislation. “We applaud Rep. Moulton and Rep. Rutherford for moving us swiftly in the right direction, and we hope the other members of Congress will join them in this urgent work.”

Both the House Natural Resources and Budget committees have the bill for review. No hearings have been scheduled on the legislation.

Steve Bittenbender works as a freelance journalist based in Louisville, Kentucky. Besides working for as a contributing editor, Steve also works as an editor for Government Security News and as the Kentucky correspondent for the Reuters News Service.

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