PRESS RELEASE

NOAA Kisses Off Right Whale Survival  

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For Immediate Release:  Friday, February 19, 2021
Contact:  Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

NOAA Kisses Off Right Whale Survival

New NOAA Finding at Odds with Science, Facts, and the Law

Washington, DC — A proposal that purportedly helps the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale actually condemns the species to extinction, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The responsible federal agency is poised to approve fishing operations with few additional safeguards, despite a plummeting population facing increased mortality from entanglements with fishing gear.

Today is the deadline for public comments on a “no jeopardy” finding from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries on reauthorizing operations from 10 North Atlantic fisheries operations. These fleets will harvest lobster, crabs, mackerel, dogfish, flounder, and other fish species.  PEER’s comments point out that NOAA’s proposed action  –

  • Is Improperly Based on NOAA Draft Regulations Yet to be Finalized.  In fact, NOAA is assuming finalization of regulations still out for public comment;
  • Ignores Continuing Significant Die-Off. With roughly 350 whales still in existence, NOAA has chosen to overlook continuing declines in a population that cannot sustain additional losses from entanglements; and
  • Discounts Harm from Injurious Entanglements. NOAA ignores clear evidence of damage to whale reproduction, feeding, and survival from entanglements that injure whales, but do not kill them.

“Right whale deaths due to entanglements are on the rise yet NOAA is, in essence, saying ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,’” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  “Contrary to NOAA’s stance on sub-lethal effects, adverse events that fail to kill right whales do not make them stronger.”

PEER charges that today’s action follows a pattern of NOAA decisions that ignore the findings of scientists, some of them their own. It also continues a trend where NOAA seeks to curtail observations documenting mortality while emphasizing misleading scraps of good news.

NOAA Fisheries has a conflicting dual mandate where its conservation responsibilities clash with its charge of fostering our domestic fishing industry. Past curtailment of fleet operations to protect diminishing right whales has sparked political pushback, especially during the Trump tenure.

“NOAA’s latest action reinforces the idea that NOAA’s marine conservation decisions should be separated from its fisheries management role,” added Bennett, noting that the current non-jeopardy finding was prepared under Trump. “This action will be a test of whether the Biden pledge of scientific integrity holds water.”

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Read the PEER comments

See NOAA’s draft Biological Opinion 

Look at NOAA ignoring its own scientists’ research

View NOAA’s move to reduce right whale aerial surveys