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Isakson’s support for right whale conservation part of broadening bipartisan effort

right whale, fisheries.noaa Federal legislation to help conserve the endangered right whale has gained bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, where retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson was one of two original cosigners of the bill. Credit: fisheries.noaa.gov

By David Pendered

When Sen. Johnny Isakson announced he was co-sponsoring federal legislation to provide $50 million, over 10 years, to help conserve endangered right whales, he cited an event during his days the Georgia Legislature in explaining why he picked support of this issue as one of his final acts in public office.

A number of right whales have been found dead off the East Coast, including some who were struck by vessels, according to Diseases of Aquatic Organisms. File/Credit: Diseases of Aquatic Organisms.

“The North Atlantic right whale was named the official Georgia state marine mammal when I served as minority leader in the Georgia State House,” Isakson said in a Sept 12 statement.

That was back in 1985. Isakson was in his fifth term in the state House and in his first of four terms as minority leader. At the time, Paul Coverdell was a state senator championing a bipartisan, biracial style of politics as he helped establish the foundation for a state Republican Party, according to an account in New Georgia Encyclopedia.

The current legislation to protect right whales may fulfill this political ambition.

The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey and candidate for president. Isakson was one of two original cosponsors – the other is a Democrat from Delaware, Sen. Thomas Carper, according to the legislation.

In the U.S. House, a bipartisan group co-sponsored a resolution sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Salem, Mass. Among them was Rep. Buddy Carter, a Republican who serves a district along Georgia’s coast.

Carter cosigned the paper on Sept. 24, two weeks after Isakson’s signature on the right whale legislation and two weeks after Carter filed legislation intended to protect Georgia’s offshore continental shelf from President Trump’s oil extraction policy. Carter’s office does not appear to have issued a statement about Carter’s position on the right whale legislation.

The bill is titled, SAVE Right Whales Act, short for Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered Right Whales Act.

The Senate bill cites the following two items, in addition to measures to address ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements:

  • The Department of Commerce will provide financial assistance for the conservation of right whales. The bill calls for a total of $5 million a year to be provided in each year from 2019 through 2029. The sum shall not supplant other money the department may have for such purposes. Administrative expenses are capped at a total of $80,000.
  • The Commerce Department must conduct ongoing surveys of plankton, which is the primary food of right whales, by means of a continuous plankton recorder. The department is to collect data on “plankton by collaborating with volunteer organizations in sectors including other government agencies, research, nonprofits and commercial. Canada is to be brought into the discussion, to develop to the extent practical an understanding of the abundance and distribution of plankton in the territorial waters of each country.
right whale, fisheries.noaa

Federal legislation to help conserve the endangered right whale has gained bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, where retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson was one of two original cosigners of the bill. Credit: fisheries.noaa.gov

Canada is becoming increasingly important to the survival of right whales. Just this past June, two dead right whales were spotted in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, a waterway between the tourist destinations of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

The Senate legislation observes:

  • “North Atlantic right whales are now migrating farther north into Canadian waters and there have been at least 20 North Atlantic right whale deaths in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence between 2017 and 2019, as well as 8 documented deaths of such whales in the United States waters in 2017 and 2018.
  • “It is the sense of Congress that – the Governments of the United States and Canada must work together to reduce lethal and sub-lethal effects of human activities on North Atlantic right whales; and effectively addressing the threats to the long-term viability of the North Atlantic right whales will require a joint commitment and effort from government entities, local communities, marine scientists and conservationists, fishermen, owners and operators of passenger vessels and others in the shipping industry, and other stakeholders.”


The homes of various species of concerns are denoted by color: Blue dotted outline, Atlantic right whale. Hashed line – Atlantic sharpnose shark, infant; brown – Atlantic sharpnose shark, juvenile; green – Atlantic sharpnose shark, adult. Teal – loggerhead sea turtle. Yellow border and shading – Bigeye thresher shark. File/Credit: Oceana

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. Thomas W Wright December 1, 2019 3:24 pm

    Our Right Whales on our South Atlantic Coast should be protected but other needs of our maritime communities should also be considered when updating regulations. Both Buddy Carter and Johnny Isakson are doing a great job overseeing the process but it’s sometimes difficult to understand the real issues and facts. Environmental activists recently criticized the impact of vessels searching for underwater potential drilling sites off our coast. They criticized the vessel doing the the surveys without mentioning the additional security vessels that surround and protect both the survey vessel and also any close Right Whales and other local species. It’s important to understand our offshore coast without authorizing significant offshore projects. Buddy and Johnny are doing a great job for our coastal community and offshore resources!!!Report


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