GAO Finds Bush Admin Failed Marine Mammals

Posted by Miwa at Jan 09, 2009 05:53 PM |
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From Allison Winter, E&E reporter:

The Bush administration has failed to provide safeguards to protect more than a dozen stocks of marine mammals from injury or death in commercial fishing nets, congressional investigators said in a report released yesterday. The Government Accountability Office found that the National Marine Fisheries Service has failed to meet its legal obligation to guard whales, dolphins and other marine mammals from entanglement in fishing gear. The 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act require that the agency establish “take reduction teams” for certain marine mammals to reduce accidental injuries or death in fishing gear. The agency failed to set up teams of experts to protect 14 of 30 different stocks of marine mammals that deserve protection, the report says. False killer whales off the Hawaiian Islands, bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico and Steller sea lions in the eastern and western United States are among animals left without bycatch protection teams.

And for the rest of the stocks, NMFS lacked a “comprehensive strategy” to assess the effectiveness of its program and frequently missed deadlines to set up teams and create safety plans. For most stocks, the agency relies on incomplete, outdated or imprecise data on population size or mortality, GAO found. Federal fisheries officials told GAO they were aware of some of the limitations but did not have enough funding to implement plans or improve their data. For some marine mammal stocks, officials said a take-reduction team would be useless, since the threats to the marine mammals are not from fishing but from other sources, such as Navy sonar exercises. NMFS officials agreed with a recommendation from GAO that the agency develop a comprehensive strategy for assessing the effectiveness of the plans and the regulations. The report came as President George W. Bush this week declared three new national monuments in the Pacific Ocean — a move than won praise from environmental and marine conservation groups. Bush used the announcement as an opportunity to defend his environmental record — often praised for ocean conservation but widely criticized for its policies on public lands, endangered species and climate change.

“For an administration that is desperately trying to create a legacy of ocean stewardship before leaving office, it is disappointing to hear that they have dropped the ball on reducing incidental deaths of mammals due to commercial fishing,” said House Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who requested the report. Rahall said the report would create a “solid road map for the tremendous work that lies ahead” and pledged to work with the incoming Obama administration to try to secure protections for whales and other marine species. The report recommends that Congress amend the existing law to specify that the teams are only required for marine mammals that interact with a fishery and change the law’s deadlines to make them easier for NMFS to comply. GAO also recommended that lawmakers require federal officials to report on progress in developing the teams and any limitations hindering the agency. “NMFS faces a very large, complex, and difficult task in trying to protect marine mammals from incidental mortality and serious injury during the course of commercial fishing operations,” the report states.

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