In 2016, 71 whales became entangled in fishing nets off the coast of Washington, Oregon and California — the most ever recorded.
Fifty-four of these whales were endangered humpback whales. Although powerful mammals, they are rarely able to escape tangled nets and ropes. Once caught in a heavy commercial Dungeness crab trap, whales can suffer major injuries — and may even die — as the ropes cut into their flesh, sap their strength and cause them to drown.
Ultimately these entanglements could lead humpback whales to become extinct, which is what concerns Catherine Kilduff, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Extinction is forever, so we have to make the right decisions every day to try to reverse the current mass extinction. Human life depends on it,” she explained.
Recognizing that humpback whales are in extreme peril , the Care2 team created a petition urging Jerry Brown — then-governor of California — to sign into law Senate Bill 1309. Also known as the Fisheries Omnibus Bill of 2018, the bill was designed to establish policies that would prevent these horrific whale and sea turtle entanglements.
As the petition pointed out:
Humpback migration, breeding, and feeding seasons and routes are well known among biologists and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). These areas have a higher concentration of whales and thus there is a higher risk of ensnarement.
In order to prevent whales and other marine animals like sea turtles from going extinct, we must create policies that prevent threats like entanglement.
California commercial Dungeness crab gear is the main culprit for a majority of whale and sea turtle entanglements — at least in cases when the gear can be identified. Senate Bill 1309 directs the CDFW to adopt new regulations to minimize the risk of commercial crab gear entanglements with marine life by November 1, 2020. The legislation also instructs the CDFW to limit fishing as necessary or take other actions before that date.
The Care2 petition, which garnered an amazing 129,245 signatures, called on Governor Brown to sign the Fisheries Omnibus Bill without delay.
On September 30, 2018, Governor Brown signed the bill into law.
Congratulations and thank you to all the Care2 members who signed this petition and helped protect the West Coast’s marine biodiversity.
According to a legislative analysis, this “omnibus” bill lived up to its name and covered many different aspects of fisheries law, including:
[E]xtending the sunset on a salmon program, revising the existing Dungeness crab trap retrieval program, requiring the Dungeness Crab Working Group to evaluate risks of marine life entanglements, and reopening certain areas to halibut trawling, among other things.
And more good news for humpback whales: Paralleling SB 1309, Brown also signed into law at the end of September a separate Senate Bill. SB 1017 phases out the use of drift gill nets. These giant ocean fishing nets, are used for catching swordfish, but they accidentally kill thousands of sea turtles, dolphins, whales and other sea creatures.
Every entanglement of an endangered humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle is a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
Thank you, Care2 activists, for signing this petition to protect humpback whales and save marine life from agonizing deaths.