Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 15, 2023

Contact:

Brian Segee, Center for Biological Diversity, (805) 750-8852, bsegee@biologicaldiversity.org
Marcie Keever, Friends of the Earth, (510) 900-3144, mkeever@foe.org

Biden Administration Drops Appeal of Court Decision on Threat to Endangered Whales From Shipping Lanes

OAKLAND, Calif.— The Biden administration has abandoned its appeal of a 2022 court ruling holding that the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Coast Guard failed to meet Endangered Species Act requirements when designating shipping lanes into the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and the San Francisco Bay.

The ruling was the result of a 2021 lawsuit the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth filed against the agencies.

“Now that this decision is final and the threat to endangered whales is indisputable, it’s time for federal officials to prioritize making a better plan for routing and slowing down ships,” said Brian Segee, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Ship strikes are a leading killer of endangered whales off California’s coast, and last year’s court decision affirmed that federal agencies must do more to address this growing risk.”

In the Service’s analysis of lane designations, the agency concluded that the pathways would cause no “take” of any whales or sea turtles, despite routing shipping traffic through several whale hot spots, including the Santa Barbara Channel and northern approach to the Bay. The court rejected the agencies’ conclusions, finding that its determination “defies logic,” and that it is “undisputed” that whales are struck and killed by ship strikes within the lanes.

“The federal government has ignored the impact of vessel traffic on endangered species for far too long,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director at Friends of the Earth. “The science is clear: Better management of vessel speeds and routes will make a real difference. It is way past time for the Fisheries Service and the Coast Guard to address the threats to our endangered marine mammals and all species threatened by shipping impacts.”

In response to the court’s ruling, the Coast Guard and Fisheries Service must conduct a new consultation that accounts for the risks shipping-lane designations pose to whales and sea turtles and considers measures proven to reduce those harms. Mandatory vessel speed limits and routing changes have consistently been demonstrated as the two most important measures that can reduce shipping traffic’s overlap with areas of high whale densities.

Between 2007 and 2020, the Service documented 49 instances of ships killing large whales off the California coast. Scientists say the actual number could be 20 times larger since most dead whales sink. Five whales were killed by ships in the San Francisco Bay region in 2022 alone, including California’s most photographed whale, the beloved humpback known as Fran.

Groups have long called for shipping speed limits and other maritime rules to better protect imperiled marine life, but the Service has repeatedly rejected those efforts.

The Center most recently petitioned the Fisheries Service in April 2021 to issue a rule implementing a mandatory 10-knot speed limit for large vessels in the shipping lanes off the California coast, and to identify areas of seasonal importance for endangered whales. In April 2022 the Service rejected the petition, concluding that “at this time, it is not necessary and appropriate to regulate vessel speeds ... for the conservation of ... blue, fin, and humpback whales.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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