Petition Filed to Increase Protection of Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Devastated by Rushed Oil-Drilling Permits

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, miyoko@biologicaldiversity.org, (415) 658-5308

Petition Filed to Increase Protection of Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Devastated by Rushed Oil-Drilling Permits

SAN FRANCISCO - The Center for Biological Diversity
filed a legal petition
today urging the Bureau of Ocean Energy (formerly the Minerals
Management
Service) and National Marine Fisheries Service to increase conservation
measures
for essential fish habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. The agencies have
failed to
adequately analyze oil and gas activities that hurt habitat for fish and

therefore the health of crucial fisheries - a violation of the
Magnuson-Stevens
Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

"Efforts to streamline oil-drilling
approvals have
resulted in important fish conservation requirements falling through the

cracks," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. "Now
fisheries
and Gulf fishing communities are paying a terrible price."

Congress passed a law in 1996 designed to
protect
both fish and fishermen, yet the Minerals Management Service approved
oil
drilling in the Gulf with only superficial attention to this law, with
disastrous consequences. Recognizing that habitat destruction is one of
the
greatest threats to fisheries, the law requires federal agencies to
consult with
the Fisheries Service before authorizing actions that hurt essential
fish
habitat - waters and substrate necessary for spawning, breeding, feeding
and
growth to maturity.

"Most federal agencies treat fish habitat

consultations as a paper exercise rather than using the process to
actually
protect fish habitat," said Sakashita. "The Gulf of Mexico is a tragic
example
of that failure."

Offshore drilling has proceeded with very
little
attention to its impacts on fish and fisheries despite the Fisheries
Service's
2009 recommendation that "[t]he impacts of all exploratory and
development
activities on the fisheries resources should be determined prior to MMS
approval
of any applications for permits to drill, including effects of seismic
survey
signals on fish behavior, eggs and larvae." The Minerals Management
Service
concluded that a subsurface blowout would have negligible effect on the
Gulf's
fish resources. The Center's petition seeks replacement of false and
misleading
statements like this with meaningful analysis of, and protections from,
the
adverse effects of oil and gas activities on essential fish habitat.

Fishing is one of the most important
industries in
the Gulf of Mexico. Recreational fishers in the Gulf take more than 20
million
fishing trips annually, and in 2008 commercial fishermen harvested 1.27
million
pounds of finfish and shellfish, earning $659 million in revenue. The
Gulf of
Mexico provides important spawning ground and year-round habitat for
many fish
species, including sharks, shrimp and coral. It is one of the only known

spawning grounds for Atlantic bluefin tuna, which the Center petitioned
for
listing under the Endangered Species Act last month. The Deepwater
Horizon
oil spill's effects on these fish and the Gulf's fisheries will last
for
many years or decades.

Get the latest on the Gulf oil spill on
the Center's
Gulf Disaster website,
updated daily.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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