For Immediate Release,
January 25, 2021
WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a public records request with the National Marine Fisheries Service today to find out why Trump administration officials failed to urgently protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from entanglement in commercial fishing lines. The request seeks communications related to the agency’s draft biological opinion on 10 Atlantic fisheries issued in the final days of the Trump administration.
The opinion is required under the Endangered Species Act to analyze the impacts of the fisheries on right whales based on the best available science, including the fact that the right whale population — down to only about 360 animals — is rapidly declining due to ship strikes and fishing-gear entanglements. Among the communications sought are those involving Fisheries Service Administrator Chris Oliver, the longtime executive director of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, who the Trump administration appointed to lead the Fisheries Service in 2017.
“The rapid decline of North Atlantic right whales clearly called for a finding that they’re in jeopardy and urgently need protection from fishing lines. We want to find out why that didn’t happen and how much political meddling influenced that decision,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director with the Center. “There’s something very fishy going on here and we want to get to the bottom of it.”
Prior record requests revealed that Trump political appointees at the Fisheries Service forced last minute changes to measures intended to help protect right whales from proposed seismic exploration activities in the Atlantic.
Entanglement in commercial fishing gear is a leading cause of death of North Atlantic right whales. The Fisheries Service’s opinion estimates that U.S. fisheries kill or seriously injure an average of nearly seven right whales every year.
After years of delay, the agency finally issued a proposed rule to amend the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan to reduce the risk of right whale entanglements in the lobster and Jonah crab fisheries. The agency recently admitted that the proposal does not go far enough to reduce right whale entanglements to below legally required limits.
The Center and allies filed an emergency rulemaking petition with the federal government last month seeking to protect North Atlantic right whales from fishing lines. The agency has yet to respond to that petition, despite repeatedly acknowledging the dire status of the right whale and urgent need to reduce the risk of entanglement.