CHATHAM -- The name of a new piece of federal legislation is an echo of a successful movement in the 1980s, although far more specific: SAVE the Right Whales.
The act's full name is ''Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales, Act of 2018,'' and it was filed on the afternoon of June 7, in anticipation of World Oceans Day, today, June 8. Sponsored by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, with strong support from Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, the act would provide $5 million a year for 10 years for research meant to stop the highly endangered right whale from sliding into extinction.
The legislation specifies that any research project "cooperative in nature," meaning engaging fishermen in the work, would have funding priority.
The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance has endorsed the bill.
"Fishermen know well what works, what doesn't, and are often on the forefront of common sense solutions," said John Pappalardo, CEO of the Fishermen's Alliance. "We'd look forward to helping researchers and scientists make best use of these funds."
The act would support a wide range of entities, including regulators, industry and non-profits to come up with answers to the growing problem of whale deaths, coupled with a lack of calves being born.
Local lobstermen have already adopted multiple innovations to avoid entangling whales, including "weak links" on their lines, "sinking lines" that won't float or snag animals if broken away, and linking multiple pots in a single "trawl" to reduce the number of buoy lines in the water. Those changes, and others, are a part of what helped the humpback whale make a dramatic recovery - it is no longer listed as endangered.
But the right whale has not seen the same successes. At least 10 of the 17 right whales killed last year were entangled in Canadian snow crab gear; the other seven are thought to have been killed in similar gear.
The bill makes note of the high number of deaths in Canada and calls on that country to work with the United States for stronger protections across our northern border.
"Our region's lobstermen have bent over backwards to find ways to keep their lines from tangling up with whales," said John Pappalardo, CEO of the Fishermen's Alliance. "We are committed to a vital ocean as well as commercial fishing, and we'll do everything we can to accomplish both goals. A bill like this, if passed, would help us get there."