There are just over 360 right whales left in the world, and the fight is on to save them. Conservationists and fishermen will be closely watching a federal court case closely over the next 12 days.
“Arguably, the existence of the Massachusetts lobster fishery is at stake today,” said Eve Zuckoff, a reporter at GBH’s Cape Cod bureau who joined Henry Santoro on Morning Edition today to talk about the right whale court case.
The case is being pushed by activist Max Strahan, who wants a judge to ban Massachusetts from authorizing fisheries that use vertical ropes that can entangle and kill North Atlantic right whales.
Zuckoff explained that today’s case builds on a judge’s order from last year that gave the state 90 days to get a key federal permit that would increase federal oversight of the lobster industry.
“The judge said that while Massachusetts has done the most of any state in the country to keep right whales from getting entangled in fishing line, it hasn’t done enough,” Zuckoff said, predicting that Strahan will push this point — even though the state has enacted some protections, they should do more to protect the whales.
Strahan has been working for years to protect whales legally, Zukoff said. “But if a judge does side with him, it could decimate the lobster fishery and set precedents for states like Maine.”
While she said it seems somewhat unlikely that this case could go Strahan’s way, more lawsuits could be looming, after the National Marine Fisheries Service last month released its biological opinion, a framework that calls for a 98% decrease in the risks to right whales over the next decade. Zuckoff says both fishermen and conservationists are criticizing it.
“Lobstermen, as you can imagine, are not happy,” she said, noting that a representative from the Maine Lobstermen's Association has said “the lobster fishery, especially smaller boats, will be decimated.”
And, Zuckoff said conservation groups argue even the small number of deaths allowed by the framework couldn’t be sustained by the whale populations.
WATCH: Eve Zuckoff on fighting right whale extinction