HANCOCK — How many more critically endangered North Atlantic right whales need be killed as a result of ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements for Maine’s congressional delegation to stop throwing obstacles in the way of protections for these magnificent creatures?

They all claim to be concerned for these whales, but their actions belie these claims.

Although entanglement in fishing gear is now the leading cause of death for these whales, Rep. Jared Golden introduced, and Rep. Chellie Pingree co-sponsored, an amendment to the SAVE Right Whales Act that would have blocked regulations on Maine lobstermen until a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data tool could be peer-reviewed, paving the way for the tool to be used to create rules affecting lobster fishing gear. In a letter to NOAA, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King joined Golden and Pingree in calling for this peer review.

Golden’s office estimated it would take about a year for NOAA to subject this tool to peer review, and he’s said that he wants NOAA to take as long as it needs to make sure the data it is using are accurate.

The problem with this, and it’s a very large one, is that in the meantime, right whales keep on being killed. In fact, we know that at least six died in June, including one found the day Golden’s amendment was quashed. How many more might be killed in the year it may have taken to complete the peer-review?

Let’s keep in mind the fact that NOAA Fisheries has itself stated, regarding these animals, that “the loss of even a single individual may contribute to the extinction of the species.”

The looming threat of extinction that right whales are facing is an emergency. As scientists have stated, they could be functionally extinct within 20 years, and should we have more months like June, likely sooner. When there is an emergency, and time for action to avoid disaster is very limited, it is irresponsible to require that a study be done to prove an action will have a positive impact. Obviously, the stalling would greatly increase the potential for disaster.

In this case, we are talking about the human-caused extinction of an animal whose population was doing very well when European settlers first came to these shores. Human greed and indifference alone put these animals in this situation, and that is what’s keeping them there. Humans can, and must, do better.

That would include Maine’s congressional delegation. Rather than throwing roadblocks in the way of right whale protections by demanding time-consuming studies and blocking funding for solutions to this problem, they should be demanding that the federal government really put its money where its mouth is.

To save this incredible animal, the SAVE Right Whales Act proposes spending only $50 million over 10 years. While that may seem a lot of money to some, consider this: The Bath Iron Works-built Zumwalt destroyer USS Lyndon B. Johnson, whose “christening” was celebrated in April with our full delegation in attendance, cost $7 billion. That is billion with a “B”! Despite this vast sum of money, the Zumwalt destroyers have no clear mission in the Navy’s fleet, which is already larger (in aggregate tonnage) than the next 13 largest fleets combined. In addition, the LBJ will be used essentially as a floating parts warehouse for the other two beleaguered Zumwalt destroyers built by BIW.

At a tiny 0.238 percent of the $21 billion boondoggle that these Zumwalt destroyers are, $50 million is peanuts.

Citizens Opposing Active Sonar Threats has always been supportive of effective measures to protect right, and other whales, and, we have always felt that lobstermen and women should not have to bear all the financial costs of being required to replace or remove gear. We have suggested repeatedly that the federal government should cover at least a substantial part of those costs. As the Zumwalt fiasco clearly demonstrates, it has more than enough money to do this.

Maine’s congressional delegation should stop blocking protections for the imperiled right whale, and instead, demand that the federal government immediately implement any and all meaningful protective measures, and cover more of those costs – before it’s too late.

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