CLF Challenges National Marine Fisheries Service Habitat Protection Plan

Agency has failed to protect right whales and groundfish

A fishing boat heads out to sea from Boston Harbor. (c) IStock

May 9, 2018 (BOSTON) – Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) has filed two challenges to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Omnibus Habitat Amendment. The first lawsuit argues that the fisheries service did not take necessary steps to ensure the survival of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales prior to approving the amendment, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

NMFS’s recent action opens up more than 3,000 additional square miles to the use of fishing gear that threatens right whales with entanglement in an area that is critical to the species’ survival.

“The North Atlantic right whale population is in crisis,” said Emily Green, Staff Attorney at CLF.  “Entanglement in fishing gear leads to severe health implications, and it is the primary cause of death for this iconic species. It is the duty of NMFS to protect right whales, but the agency has instead opened additional areas for commercial fishing without adequate consideration of the implications, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.”

The second lawsuit focuses on Atlantic cod, other groundfish, and deep-sea corals. CLF contends that NMFS failed to approve viable alternatives that would have minimized the adverse impacts of fishing in the Gulf of Maine on these important species.

In particular, CLF argues that NMFS has failed to minimize the impacts of fishing gear in the Cashes Ledge area, which has been closed since 2002 to large bottom trawls and other bottom-tending fishing gear capable of catching groundfish. NMFS rubber-stamped the recommendation of industrial fishing groups and designated the area as a mortality closure that could easily be reopened. The agency instead should have required the area remain closed for its ecological value.

“NMFS has again failed to protect fragile habitats and overfished species,” said Peter Shelley, CLF Senior Counsel. “If any place in the Gulf of Maine merits comprehensive, permanent protection from fishing and fishing gear impacts based on science, it is the Cashes Ledge area. Instead, the amendment opens the door to destructive commercial fishing practices down the line.”

CLF experts are available for further comment.