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Biodiversity group says omnibus puts right whale ‘on an irreversible extinction trajectory’

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The Center for Biological Diversity on Thursday said the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package moving through Congress will put North Atlantic right whales on the path toward an “irreversible extinction.”

A provision inserted into the bill by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would allow the U.S. lobster fishery to delay for six years new rules that would place restrictions on fishing gear that would stop the equipment from entangling and killing the endangered whales, the group said.

The Senate on Thursday passed the omnibus spending package, kicking it back to the House to clear before government funding runs out at the end of Friday.

Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, slammed Schumer on Thursday, saying the “needless suffering” the whales “will endure is heartbreaking.”

“Extinction is a political choice, and Schumer just made it clear that he’s willing to pander to special interests over protecting these mighty giants,” Kurose said in a statement.

Fewer than 350 North Atlantic Right Whales are left, including less than 100 breeding females, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

Commercial whalers hunted the species to the brink of extinction by the 1890s. The whales, which have been listed as endangered since 1970, has never fully recovered. Entanglement in fishing nets and vessel strikes are leading causes of mortality for the species.

Activists have long called for the fishing and lobster industry, particularly in Maine, to stop using rope gear because right whales can get tangled up in it. After a legal challenge, a federal judge in July ruled the Maine lobster industry must adopt new, stricter regulations by 2024.

But the provision in the omnibus prevents any new federal regulations from taking effect through 2028.

The senators from Maine, Susan Collins (D) and Angus King (I), authored the rider in the Senate along with Maine Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden in the House.

In a joint statement this week, the congressional lawmakers said there has never been a death attributed to fishing gear, accusing “misguided environmental groups” of “seeking actions that would end lobstering in Maine.”

“Without our provision, Maine’s iconic industry could be facing a complete shutdown—and the ripple effects across our state would have been widespread,” the statement reads.

The Maine lobster fishery is a more than $1 billion industry. The fishery garnered attention when President Biden served 200 lobsters at a White House dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month.

Leda Huta, the executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, also criticized Democrats for including the provision in the omnibus bill, arguing it “condemned North Atlantic right whales to more entanglements with fishing gear, more prolonged suffering, and likely extinction.

“In the midst of a biodiversity crisis, this betrayal and backroom dealing is particularly horrific,” Huta said in a statement.

Tags Angus King Biden Center for Biological Diversity Center for Biological Diversity Chuck Schumer Chuck Schumer Emmanuel Macron omnibus Omnibus bill Patrick Leahy Patrick Leahy right whale right whale spending bill Stephanie Kurose Susan Collins

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