The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Sierra Weaver, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-772-3274
Kristen Everett, The HSUS, 301-721-6440

Groups Sue Over Feds' Decision to Remove Protections for Whales


Defenders of Wildlife and The Humane Society of the United States filed suit today over the National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) decision to roll back protections for critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, humpbacks, and fin whales. The agency's decision removes older protections deemed necessary to protect whales from deadly entanglement in fishing gear, and at the same time delays new, more protective requirements. The resulting gap in protections puts whales at serious risk of entanglement for a full six months.

"After stalling more than three years to announce new rules to reduce whale entanglements, the Bush administration now wants to delay even further," said Sierra Weaver, staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. "Even worse, at the same time they're delaying new measures, they're getting rid of old ones. Right whales especially can not withstand this type of gamble. It's reckless and irresponsible to leave the most endangered large whale on the planet unprotected in this way."

In 2007, The HSUS filed suit to force NMFS to publish long overdue modifications to fishing gear regulations to protect endangered whales. The government agreed to issue regulations, but delayed implementation of some measures until October 2008. Bowing to pressure from the commercial fishing industry, NMFS decided earlier this month to further delay the primary risk reduction measures for another six months until April 2009. The delayed measures would have required fishermen to stop using dangerous floating groundline between lobster and crab pots and begin using safer line that sinks to the ocean floor and thus poses a lower risk of entanglement to whales. Despite the delay, the agency still chose to completely phase out older protections that were supposed to be strengthened by the new measures, leaving endangered whales essentially unprotected.

Charging that the federal government's continued delay will jeopardize the continued existence of the right whale and that the delay also violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and other conservation laws, the groups filed suit in the federal District of Columbia District Court to force the agency to reinstitute protections.

"After announcing that the death of a single female right whale could jeopardize the recovery of the species, the administration continues to place whales at risk of entanglement and death," said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for The HSUS. "The North Atlantic right whale is desperately in need of protection, yet the administration sits on its hands while critically endangered right whales continue to die preventable deaths."


Since 2002, at least a dozen whales have become seriously injured or died from entanglement in fishing gear. The North Atlantic right whale is a critically endangered marine animal once hunted to near extinction by whalers. Now there are fewer than 350 of these whales left. Adult female right whales reproduce slowly - they give birth to one calf every four years and do not reach reproductive maturity until age eight. More females than males die in fishing gear entanglements. Although right whales migrate up and down the East Coast, the delay in protective measures will primarily put whales feeding in New England at risk. Between 2006 and 2008, NMFS issued emergency protective measures in New England 30 times in the winter months during which NMFS is now delaying protections.

Defenders of Wildlife is the premier U.S.-based national conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of imperiled species and their habitats in North America.

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