On Monday, the Trump administration ended a new rule that was aimed at protecting endangered marine life off the West Coast from the fishing industry.
Environmental experts are calling the move a declaration of “war” by the Trump administration against threatened marine life.
“The Trump administration has declared war on whales, dolphins and turtles off the coast of California,” Todd Steiner, director of the California-based Turtle Island Restoration Network, told the Los Angeles Times. “This determination will only lead to more potential litigation and legislation involving this fishery. It’s not a good sign.”
Gill net fishing poses a grave threat to marine mammals and other creatures. Citing NOAA data, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity said last year that the California-based gill net fishery targeting swordfish “catches and discards more than 100 protected whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions each year, in addition to thousands of sharks and other fish.”
“This fishery kills more whales and dolphins than any other fishery off the U.S. West Coast and Alaska combined,” the organization said in 2014.
NOAA said this week that it had decided to scrap the gill net rule after discovering that “the costs of the protections far outweighed the benefits,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Michael Milstein, a NOAA spokesman, cited economic reasons for the decision, saying the rule would have had “a much more substantial impact on the [gill net fishing] fleet than we originally realized,” according to the AP.
“The bottom line is this is a fishery that’s worked hard to reduce its impact,” Milstein said.
Environmental groups protested Monday’s decision, however, rejecting NOAA’s reasoning.
Steiner, of Turtle Island Restoration Network, noted that falling by-catch figures could also be attributed to the decline of the gill net fishing fleet in California, which has dropped from 129 vessels in 1994 to just 20 vessels or fewer in 2016.
Catherine Kilduff, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, stressed that even if by-catch numbers are decreasing, gill nets continue to kill and injure many species, including endangered leatherback turtles and humpback whales.
Given the low numbers of some of these populations, every single death or injury is significant. The Pacific leatherback turtle, for example, is the world’s most endangered marine turtle, with as few as 2,300 adult females left in the wild.
“If they catch one, it’s a huge problem for the population,” Kilduff told the AP.
The New York Times added:
“The rule would have applied to fewer than 20 fishing vessels that use mile-long fishing nets to catch swordfish off California and Oregon. The change would have shut down the drift gillnet fishing for swordfish for up to two seasons if too many of nine groups of whales, sea turtles or dolphins were getting caught in the nets.”
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