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Massachusetts' attorney general is calling on political leaders in the United States and Canada to take stronger measures to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whales.
In a letter dated Sept. 4 and addressed to eastern Canadian premiers and New England governors, Maura Healey requested they agree to reduce the number of vessel strikes and gear entanglements affecting the species "on the brink of extinction."
"Their fate is our shared responsibility," Healey wrote of the whales that are suffering what she called a "conservation crisis" in the region's waters. Eight right whales have died in Canadian waters this summer, out of a global population numbering about 400.
Her letter urged Canadian leaders to follow Massachusetts' example and forbid the use of fixed fishing gear and trap fishery closures between February and April, when right whales feed in Cape Cod Bay.
"I call on our Canadian colleagues, in particular, to adopt many of the same regulations and practices as Mass DMF and Massachusetts fishers," she wrote. "I am confident that, by working together, our states and provinces can find solutions that balance our common interests in protecting the North Atlantic right whale and our valuable fishing industries."
Healey's letter comes as six U.S. governors and five Canadian premiers prepare to meet in Saint John, N.B., next week, for their annual gathering.
Last week, the Maine Lobstermen's Association said it would pull out of an agreement that sought to reduce risk to right whales.
The organization said the rules in the Take Reduction Team agreement were too onerous for its members. It argued the lobster industry poses less risk to right whales than the Canadian snow crab fishery and the vessels in Canadian waters.
"Canadian entanglements and vessel strikes are now the most significant cause of right whale serious injury and death because right whales are spending significantly more time in Canada’s largely unregulated waters," said Patrice McCarron, director of the association, in a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In the letter published on her association's website, McCarron said lobstermen are committed to helping preserve the right whales. But, she said, agreements should reflect an accurate breakdown of the risks and use up-to-date data on whale injuries and deaths.
Ottawa implemented a number of regulations to protect marine mammals in 2018, including reduced vessel speed limits, better management of shipping lanes, as well as fishery area closures.
But some experts say those measures were too late to prevent right whale deaths.
After 12 endangered whales were found dead in Canadian waters in 2017, a report released the following year by Canada's auditor general said the government did not act quickly enough to mitigate risks to the animals.
"Overall, we found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada, and Transport Canada had not fully applied existing policies and tools to proactively manage threats to marine mammals from commercial fishing and marine vessels," the report read.