From: International Fund for Animal Welfare
Published September 21, 2004 06:19 PM

IFAW and lobstermen team up to protect North Atlantic right whales by replacing 3,250 miles of dangerous lobster gear

Yarmouth Port, MA, 20 September 2004 — IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare) today kicked off a project to make Massachusetts coastal waters some of the most whale-safe in North America.

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered animals in the world — only about 300 remain — and one of the biggest threats to its survival is the accidental entanglement in fishing gear.

Traditional rope that connects lobster traps floats upward like the humps on a camel, creating a dangerous tangle under the water for whales to swim through. Right whales get entangled in the rope when they are diving and feeding, jeopardizing their ability to breathe, eat, swim and mate.

Nearly three quarters of the North Atlantic right whale population shows scarring or other signs of injury from fishing gear and nearly one dozen North Atlantic right whales have been entangled over the past two years.

"Many of the whale entanglements are fatal and, in the case of the North Atlantic right whale, every single death threatens the survival of the entire species," said Fred O’Regan, president of IFAW. "North Atlantic right whales are literally on the verge of extinction and two of the most critically important habitats on the east coast are right here off of Massachusetts."

IFAW’s project will remove up to 3,250 miles and 220 tons of lobster rope off the coast of Massachusetts and replace it with whale-safe lobster gear. The pilot project is a unique collaboration between IFAW, Congressman Bill Delahunt (MA), Senator Edward M. Kennedy (MA), the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association (MLA).

"Innovative projects such as this one are a model for fisheries work," said Paul Diodati, director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. "Only by balancing the concerns of environmentalists and fishermen are we able to protect our valuable natural resources."

IFAW is providing a subsidy to Massachusetts lobstermen to replace old gear with whale-friendly gear. If laid end to end, the amount of line IFAW is replacing would stretch from Boston to San Francisco. This is a pilot project, which can be replicated in other fishing areas in New England and around the world.

In February 2004, the U.S. Congress approved a $660,000 appropriation to help fund IFAW’s whale-friendly gear replacement project and approximately 300 Massachusetts lobstermen are participating in the program.

"I think this will be a major step in reducing entanglements, especially serious ones, while at the same time assisting lobstermen in meeting the financial challenge of modifying their gear," said Gary Ostrom, Vice President and spokesperson for the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare):

Founded in 1969, IFAW works to protect animals and their habitats. With offices in 15 countries around the world, IFAW works to protect whales, elephants, great apes, big cats, dogs and cats, seals, and other animals. To learn how to help animals, please visit

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For more information, contact:

Chris Cutter (IFAW)
Tel: (508) 737-4623
For more information visit

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