Many fishermen say they're being unfairly blamed for the decline in the North Atlantic right whale population. Those deaths are being tied to rope used on fishing boats. Now, those fishermen are saying 'show me the rope.' On Thursday night the rope was shown. Eve Zuckoff from GBH's Cape Cod bureau spoke with GBH All Things Considered host Arun Rath. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Arun Rath: This is just a fascinating story. It starts with a right whale named Snow Cone. Snow Cone is a she, right?

Eve Zuckoff: That's right.

Rath: Tell me about her entanglement and how this situation evolved from there.

Zuckoff: So this story actually starts earlier this month with a group of conservationists actually freeing Snow Cone from more than 300 feet of fishing line. That's great news for this population. They shared the news on Facebook and they said, you know, this rope could have entangled the whale anywhere from Florida to Canada, we really don't know, but it probably came from a fishing boat. So then fishermen congregated on Facebook and they said, if that's true, show us the rope; we often hear that it's our gear that's responsible for the decline of these whales, we're told 85 percent bear the scars of entanglement, but we don't actually get to see the diameter, the markings, the color of the rope that could be used to figure out where it came from. One fisherman reached out to me and said, can you find out what happened to the line pulled off of Snow Cone? Where'd it go? What does it look like?

Rath: Wow. It's actually a great question when you think about it. Were you able to find out, and track it down?

Zuckoff: Yeah, actually, along with a number of other interesting things. So what we found is that retrieved gear is stored in a warehouse in Rhode Island where members of the public can typically request a tour, though those have been canceled because of COVID restrictions. Several fishermen told me that they couldn't take a day off of work anyway to go see this gear, because they make their money on the water. They don't get paid if they don't catch fish. So the federal Fisheries Service says, 'OK, well, if you can't take a tour, we produce a report that includes descriptions of the gear we pull off of whales.' But fishermen point out the reports don't have photos, so they're going on blind faith of what the Fisheries Service is telling them they found. It's also worth noting that the latest report available online was four years old when we published this story, which was just really unsatisfying for fishermen.

Rath: So Thursday night, after your story came out and after all those weeks of intense pressure from lobstermen, federal officials did release photos of this rope that entangled Snow Cone, and a more recent report on right whale entanglements. What did the fishermen have to say? What was their take on what was revealed?

Zuckoff: First of all, federal officials showed an image of what's called leaded rope that entangled Snow Cone. It's five-eighths of an inch in diameter, and it just looks really old. So fishermen interpreted it as ghost gear, meaning it was likely abandoned on the water by a fisherman, maybe even years ago, because guys just don't use leaded line anymore. Also, in state waters, one lobstermen told me they use thinner rope than this. Now, it's important to say that federal officials said they could not yet share where they thought this rope that entangled Snow Cone came from. But lobstermen took it as an exoneration. They said, look, this doesn't come from us, we just really don't think it comes from us. More broadly, though — and I thought this was really interesting — fishermen said they weren't super impressed seeing the rope. That included a Sandwich lobsterman, Jeffrey Richardson.

"They showed us the rope from that one entanglement," Richardson said. "Where's all the other pictures of all the other rope they've come across? Let's start getting into the other ones. You must have pictures of the other ones, too, right? Like, that's one whale."

Thursday night, officials said of the 17 right whales entangled in the last four years where a rope could be recovered and analyzed, practically none of it could definitively be tied back to the U.S. lobster fishery. A lot of it remains unknown gear. Officials say they don't share images of recovered rope until after the Office of Law Enforcement has closed an investigation. But now fishermen are really hoping for more transparency, more regular meetings where officials show the rope. That's because at the heart of this, fishermen say they're being regulated nearly out of existence. There are more seasonal closures, there are more required gear modifications to protect these critically endangered whales, and they can't even see the rope that proves they're to blame. So with this hashtag that they've launched, this show us the rope hashtag, they're just asking for a more transparent process at this point.