Silence is Golden: SSL Opposes Seismic Surveys in the Atlantic Ocean

In 1953, Jacques Cousteau referred to our oceans as “the silent world.”  While that may have been the case around mid-century, the situation today is just the opposite.  According to Christopher Clark, director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University, “If you could lay down under the shipping lanes at Great South Channel (off Cape Cod) and spend the day there, you would get the impression of being on the tarmac at Logan Airport.”  For marine mammals, this amount of noise pollution produces shocking effects.

Marine mammals have evolved over millions of years to thrive in our oceans.  Until recently, the marine environment has been characterized by a certain class and degree of natural sounds.  Marine mammals evolved against this background, developing acute hearing, communication skills, and echo-location abilities attuned to natural sound levels.  In the past several decades, we have cranked up the volume to deafening levels.  For instance, low-frequency background noise in the ocean has increased 32-fold since the 1950’s.  This is hardly surprising:  Since 1950, the worldwide commercial fleet has also grown exponentially, in terms of number of vessels and especially in terms of gross tonnage.  When we add offshore drilling and mining to the mix, marine habitats have suddenly become host to a racket of block-party proportions.

For marine mammals, this noise has tragic consequences.  The impacts include:

  • Drowning out social communications used to find mates or identify predators;
  • Temporary and permanent hearing loss or impairment;
  • Displacement from preferred habitat;
  • Disruption of feeding, breeding, and nursing;
  • Mass strandings; and
  • Death and serious injury from hemorrhaging and tissue trauma
One of twelve sperm whales that beached and died on Karekare beach in New Zealand in late 2003. Credit: iStockphoto

One of twelve sperm whales that beached and died on Karekare beach in New Zealand in late 2003. Credit: iStockphoto

With this in mind, SSL has taken a firm stand against proposed seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean.  In comments submitted to NMFS (available here: SSL Comments in Response to Applications for Incidental Harassment Authorization Re Geophysical Survey Activity Atlantic Ocean_Final_2), SSL urged the agency to reject applications by oil and gas companies seeking permission to “incidentally harass” marine mammals while conducting seismic surveys.

Not only would these “surveys” — a dangerous euphemism if one ever existed — wreak havoc on cetaceans and other marine life, they would also directly violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s (MMPA) prohibition against anything beyond “negligible impact.”  Pursuant to Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA, the Secretary of Commerce may allow the incidental, but not intentional, take of small numbers of marine mammals.  To permit incidental take, NMFS must find that proposed take will have only a “negligible impact” on the species or stocks. “Negligible impact” is defined in 50 CFR 216.103 as “an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival.”

Here, all the evidence suggests that the contemplated “surveys”  —  involving the incessant firing of huge arrays of underwater air guns — will have far more than a “negligible impact.”  For threatened and endangered species such as the fin whale, humpback whale, North Atlantic right whale, sei whale, sperm whale, and West Indian manatee, these surveys would push them one step closer to extinction.  For the North Atlantic right whale, the situation is particularly dire.  This species numbers only 455 individuals.  As NMFS has acknowledged, “the loss of even a single individual [North Atlantic right whale] may contribute to the extinction of the species.”  See 69 Fed. Reg. 30,857, 30,858 (June 1, 2004); see also 73 Fed. Reg. 60,173, 60,173 (Oct. 10, 2008); 72 Fed. Reg. 34,632, 34,632 (June 25, 2007); 66 Fed. Reg. 50,390, 50,392 (Oct. 3, 2001).

Of course, the exploratory surveys would be but a prelude to drilling.  The ultimate goal (extraction) would simply increase the pressure on these species, all while exacerbating climate change.

Help us fight marine noise pollution by making a tax-deductible donation.

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SSL Obtains Provisional Observer Status to the Bern Convention’s Standing Committee

Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) is delighted to announce that it has been granted provisional observer status to the Standing Committee to the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (the Bern Convention).  Absent any objections, SSL will become an observer on November 1 and attend the December 1-4 Standing Committee meeting in Strasbourg.

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Obtaining observer status to the Bern Convention is critical to SSL’s mission to protect marine wildlife and habitat.  The Bern Convention is a binding legal instrument that covers most of Europe and even some states in Africa.  Unlike many multilateral environmental agreements, the Bern Convention contains a compliance mechanism that allows non-state actors to file complaints — indeed, it welcomes claims brought by NGOs.

Support our efforts to play a leading role in the enhancement and application of international environmental law.

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Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) se complace en anunciar que se ha obtenido la condición de observador provisional al Comité Permanente de la Convención sobre la Conservación de la Vida Silvestre y del Medio Natural (Convenio de Berna). En ausencia de objeciones, SSL se convertirá en un observador el 1 de noviembre y asistir a la reunión annual del Comité Permanente en Estrasburgo el 1 de diciembre.o

La obtención de la condición de observador en la Convención de Berna es fundamental para la misión de SSL para proteger la fauna marina y el hábitat. El Convenio de Berna es un instrumento jurídico que cubre la mayor parte de Europa, e incluso algunos estados en África. A diferencia de muchos acuerdos ambientales multilaterales, el Convenio de Berna contiene un mecanismo de cumplimiento que permite a los actores no estatales para presentar quejas de hecho, da la bienvenida a las reclamaciones presentadas por organizaciones no gubernamentales.

Sea Shepherd Legal Co-Sponsoring 2015 Latin American Prosecutors Congress in Panama

Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) is delighted to announce that, together with the United Nations Environment Programme, it is co-sponsoring this year’s annual Congress for the Red Latinoamericana de los Ministerios Públicos Ambientales (Latin American Environmental Prosecutors’ Network, or the RED).

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The RED is a cross-border collaborative of prosecutors fighting environmental crimes throughout Latin America.  The annual Congress is an opportunity for these prosecutors to share initiatives and ideas for enforcement and improvement of environmental laws.  SSL is honored to participate in this year’s RED Congress.  While there, we will present details about SSL’s work, and what role SSL can play in a concerted regulatory effort to protect marine wildlife and ecosystems within the region.  As part of this initiative, SSL is also working with the RED to form a subcommittee of prosecutors interested in focusing efforts on marine wildlife crimes and the protection of marine environments.

Help fund this project!

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Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) tiene el gran honor de poder anunciar que, junto con el Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Medio Ambiente, vamos a copatrocinar el Congreso de este año para la Red Latinoamericana de los Ministerios Públicos Ambientales (La RED).

La RED es una colaboración transfronteriza de los fiscales que luchan contra delitos ambientales en toda América Latina. El Congreso anual es una oportunidad para estos fiscales de compartir iniciativas e ideas para mejorar el derecho ambiental y su aplicación.  SSL tiene el honor de participar en el Congreso RED de este año. Una vez allí, vamos a presentar detalles sobre el trabajo de SSL, y qué papel podemos jugar para proteger la vida silvestre y los ecosistemas marinos de la region mediante el derecho y la regulacion.  Como parte de esta iniciativa, SSL también está trabajando con la RED para formar un subcomité de fiscales interesados en concentrar los esfuerzos en los crímenes de la fauna marina y la protección de los ambientes marinos.

Sea Shepherd Legal Submits Comments Encouraging NMFS To List the Smooth Hammerhead and Bigeye Thresher under the ESA

Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL), together with Friends of Animals and Turtle Island Restoration Network, recently submitted comments encouraging the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to list the smooth hammerhead and bigeye thresher sharks as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.  SSL’s comments are available here and here.

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The smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena) is targeted for its fins and suffers from a high rate of by-catch mortality.

ca. 1990-2002, Cocos Island National Park, Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica --- Bigeye Thresher Shark's Head --- Image by © Jeffrey L. Rotman/Corbis

Bigeye Thresher Shark’ — Photo credit: Jeffrey L. Rotman/Corbis

The smooth hammerhead and bigeye thresher are targeted primarily for their fins.  At its worst — and at its most typical — finning involves hacking off the shark’s fins and throwing back the carcass — while the sharks are alive.  (For a glimpse of this horrific practice, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2UKgLsOhRM.)  The process is as irresponsible as it is barbaric.  Shark populations, including populations of these two species, are crashing at alarming rates around the world.

The threat presented by shark finning is magnified by the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms at the global scale.  Despite the intense fishing pressure on these sharks—from directed commercial, artisanal, and recreational fishing, exacerbated via indiscriminate by-catch—laws protecting these species are anemic.  International agreements on sharks are few and far between.  Where they exist, these agreements lack regulatory teeth and enforcement power.  Laws at the national level are not much better.  Indeed, some of the biggest shark-fishing nations (e.g. Pakistan) lack any laws specific to sharks.  Other nations lack any meaningful capacity to enforce laws on the books.  Even the nations that seem to boast the combination of tailored legislation and enforcement power—like members of the European Union—wither under scrutiny.  Their laws are rife with loopholes and enforcement of even basic catch limits is grossly inadequate.

In short, existing regulatory mechanisms are part of the problem.  Laws are failing sharks in all corners of the world.

Help us protect sharks like the smooth hammerhead and bigeye thresher by donating now.

Nota: Una traducción al español estará disponible muy pronto.

What the Frack?! SSL Launches Investigation of Offshore Fracking, with Briefing Series on the Way

Williston, North Dakota; the Alberta tar sands; the Marcellus Shale. In recent years, these names have become synonymous with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Fracking – especially unconventional fracking, used to access shale rock, coal beds, and oil sands — is associated with the use of toxic chemicals, water and soil contamination, and heightened risk of earthquakes.  With movies like “Gasland” and multiple features on National Public Radio, these impacts have become well-known.

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Oil slick from fracking activities. Photo credit: Vice.com

Fracking, however, is not just a terrestrial phenomenon. In many parts of the world, including in the United States, oil and gas companies are taking to the seas. The details of these offshore fracking ventures are shrouded in the mist; we know that some companies have been engaged in marine fracking for decades, while others are just getting into the game. Unfortunately, it appears that the law has been an accomplice in keeping these operations shielded from the public eye, excluding certain fracking operations from normal scrutiny.

Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) plans to change all that. In partnership with Lewis & Clark Law School’s International Environmental Law Project (IELP), SSL is launching a comprehensive investigation to pull back the curtain on marine fracking.  Our work in this area will include the development of maps and briefing papers to help the public better understand the impacts of offshore fracking, what chemicals and processes are employed, where it is taking place, and by whom it is financed.  

Only recently has the public learned that the U.S. has been permitting offshore fracking for decades.  Most of the regulated events occurring as part of the fracking process are subject to dated regulations or exceptions, such as categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act.  Our goal is to understand the current U.S. regulatory regime in order to build a more protective system.  To accomplish this latter goal, we plan to use all tools at our disposal, including administrative engagement and litigation.

Click here to help fund this project with a tax-deductible donation.

Nota: Una traducción al español estará disponible muy pronto.

Sea Shepherd Legal Leads Discussion on IUU Fishing and Flag-State Responsibility in Bolivia

International law grants all nations—whether coastal or land-locked—the right to flag marine vessels.  Although most commercial boats fly the flags of coastal states, a significant number of vessels sail under the banners of states like Switzerland, Mongolia, and Bolivia.  Given that land-locked states by definition lack proprietary coastal interests, there is a heightened risk that these states will fail to police vessels flying under their flags.

With this in mind, Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) is making efforts to engage land-locked nations on the scourge of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.  On September 25, Staff Attorney Nick Fromherz led a discussion on IUU fishing at the law school of Universidad Mayor de San Simon in Cochabamba, Bolivia.  The following weekend, Nick presented at the 6th Annual Bolivian International Law Conference in Santa Cruz.

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SSL Staff Attorney Nick Fromherz speaking at the 6th Annual Bolivian International Law Conference

Nick’s presentation focused on the role played by flag states—and particularly “flags of convenience”—in the tragedy of IUU fishing.  When it comes to enforcement of the law, not all flags are created equal.  While many states are quite demanding in terms of environmental and safety compliance, other states are willing to allow almost any vessel to fly their flag for a fee.  The latter group of states are sometimes called “flags of convenience.”  If a ship owner is interested in fishing illegally, the owner will probably register with a flag of convenience.  Inspections by the flag state will be lax to non-existent, and safety and environmental rules will frequently go unenforced.

Despite—or perhaps because of—its status as a land-locked state, Bolivia has been labeled a flag of convenience by the International Transport Workers’ Federation.  In addition, Bolivia has drawn special attention from the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (the Paris MoU), an inspection regime supported by 27 maritime nations in Europe and the North Atlantic.  On several occasions, Bolivia has appeared on the Paris MoU’s “black list,” a designation that triggers heightened scrutiny for vessels flying the Bolivian flag.

In addition to covering the basic contours of international fisheries law, Nick discussed the implications of a recent decision handed down by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).  In an April advisory opinion, ITLOS held that flag states have an affirmative duty to combat IUU fishing in the exclusive economic zones of coastal states.  The opinion, prompted by the petition of several African nations suffering from extreme levels of IUU fishing, sent a clear message to flag states:  Granting a vessel the right to fly a flag comes with meaningful duties, including a duty to combat IUU fishing.  Flag states that fail to vet, monitor, and enforce are playing a dangerous game—not only with the fish, but also with themselves.

Law students and professional listen to SSL presentation on IUU fishing and flag-state responsibilities.

Law students and professionals listen to SSL presentation on IUU fishing and flag-state responsibilities.

Help us fight IUU fishing by making a tax-deductible donation.

Nota: Una traducción al español estará disponible muy pronto.

SSL Pushes Back on Plan to Gut the ESA Petition Process

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is known as the heavyweight champion of species protection.  The ESA’s reputation is well deserved — 99% of the plants and animals under the Act’s protection have been saved from extinction.  If a species is listed as “threatened” or “endangered,” Section 9 of the ESA prohibits any person (including state and federal actors) from “taking” a member of that species.   The United Supreme Court famously upheld an extremely broad interpretation of “take”:  It includes not only more traditional forms of take (like capturing or pursuing a species) but also habitat destruction.

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For all its potential punch, however, the ESA is only effective if a species is listed.  Without that action, this prize fighter stays in its corner.

Listing can happen in two ways: The federal agencies in charge of administering the ESA — U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) — can propose a listing, or citizens can file a petition.  With limited resources, political pressures, and the ever-present specter of regulatory capture, FWS and NMFS have not always done their jobs.  Indeed, “[m]ost controversial listings have been initiated through the citizen petition process rather than by agency action.”  Holly Doremus, Preserving Citizen Participation in the Era of Reinvention: The Endangered Species Act Example, 25 Ecology L. Q. 707, 709 (1999).  It is citizens—without a strong economic stake in the status quo—who have demanded implementation of the statutory agenda.

Unfortunately, FWS and NMFS have proposed changes to the petition process that would undermine citizens’ ability to achieve listings.  SSL has challenged these proposed changes.  Among other modifications, FWS and NMFS have proposed several amendments that would increase the burden on petitioners — perhaps to the point of deterring some meritorious petitions altogether — and tweak the rules in favor of interests opposed to conservation.

The following four changes stand out as particularly misguided:

  • Requirement that petitioners solicit the participation of every state agency in every state that the subject species is present (for some shark species that would include every state on the Atlantic seaboard)
  • Requirement that petitioners collect and submit prejudicial information (thereby undermining arguments in favor of listing the species)
  • Requirement that petitioners only seek listing of one species at a time (no more efficient, multi-species petitions – even when multiple species face the same threats, at the same time, in the same area)
  • Requirement that petitioners provide “substantial information” at the outset to show that a species should be listed (with the exorbitant cost associated with gathering scientific data and purchasing supporting scientific articles, this would deprive many citizens the opportunity to file for species protection; citizen petitions are a vital component of species protection under the ESA)

While NMFS and FWS claim that the proposed changes will promote efficiency in the listing process, SSL firmly believes that these changes will not only ultimately result in greater inefficiency but also significantly chill citizen-initiated petitions to the detriment of wildlife.  If changes are necessary to enhance the efficiency of the listing process, such changes ought to be outcome-neutral and based on a fair organizing principal.  Here, the changes cater almost exclusively to interests opposed to additional listings and habitat designations.  In short, far fewer species will be listed, and far more will be lost.

SSL is pushing back.  In our comments to FWS and NMFS, we described the statutory and prudential flaws that run throughout the proposed amendments to the petition process.

If congressional intent to protect species from extinction at any cost is to be respected, changes that deter petitions should be off the table altogether.  Any other result is contrary to the ESA’s purpose and legacy.

Help fund our work to improve the ESA and to protect vulnerable species.

Nota: Una traducción al español estará disponible muy pronto.

SSL Takes a Stand for Gray Whales

Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) is opposed to hunting for whales under any and all circumstances.  A whale’s right to exist trumps any competing claim.  Its right to swim, breed, and exist in the wild is certainly not governed by alleged human “cultural” imperatives, even those ensconced in treaty “rights” or justified by claimed “traditions” spanning centuries.  We have not tolerated such abominations as slavery on the basis of these empty justifications.  Nor should we tolerate the killing of these highly intelligent beings.  SSL will continue to pursue legal avenues to combat the slaughter of any cetaceans wherever they may occur — whether in the Faroe Islands or in U.S. waters.

With this in mind, SSL has not hesitated to push back against the Makah Tribe’s request to hunt Eastern North Pacific (ENP) gray whales off the coast of Washington State.  In addition to needless slaughter, such a hunt would fly in the face of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) and would be in significant tension with the Endangered Species (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) feeding in sand at Anacapa Island, California, USA

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) feeding in sand at Anacapa Island, California, USA

In comments submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency in charge of evaluating the permit request, SSL made the case for denial.   NMFS had prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) to evaluate the request; NMFS’ analysis was littered with errors and characterized by a cavalier approach to federal and international conservation law.

SSL made the following observations (among many others):

  • Conservation Takes Highest Priority under the MMPA:  Absent a permit from NMFS, the MMPA prohibits “takes” of marine mammals.  The statute, legislative history, and decisional law make it abundantly clear that these permits are not to be granted lightly.  The burden of proof is borne by any party proposing to take marine mammals, or take actions contrary to the MMPA.  This “is by no means a light burden.”  The intent behind the MMPA’s “set of requirements is to insist that the management of the animal populations be carried out with the interests of the animals as the prime consideration.”  Yet, in its DEIS, NMFS gave this intent short shrift.
  • The Makah Do Not Have a Valid Subsistence Right to Hunt Whales:  In 1982, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) issued a moratorium on commercial whaling.  A recognized exception to the moratorium is “Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling” (ASW), which allows qualifying indigenous peoples to hunt a small number of whales for legitimate aboriginal subsistence needs.  NMFS claims that the Makah qualify for this exception.  They do not.  The IWC — the only entity authorized to officially recognize subsistence rights in support of a whaling quota allotment — denied the request for a Makah quota.  And for good reason:  The Makah do not meet the ASW criteria.  The Makah possess neither a nutritional nor subsistence need to whale.  Likewise, the Makah do not possess a “continuing traditional dependence on whaling and on the use of whales.”  While whaling may have been a regular part of the Makah culture over 150 years ago,  any “dependence” on whaling had nearly completely died out by 1860.
  • There Are Alternatives that Would Simultaneously Honor Makah Cultural Traditions and Protect Whales:  A purely ceremonial hunt — without the bloodshed, without the risk of extirpation of whole whale populations, and without the certain ensuing public outcry against the Makah — could readily supplant and restore the associated traditional practices.  NMFS did not seriously consider this alternative.  Other tribes, such as the Quileute Tribe in Washington and groups making up the First Nations Environmental Network in Canada, are opposed to the hunt and have taken different approaches to revering these extraordinary creatures.
  • If Permitted, the Hunt Would Set a Dangerous Precedent:  If NMFS were to approve the Makah hunt, it would in effect be creating a brand-new and broad-ranging exception for whaling based on “cultural need.”   As held by the Ninth Circuit, any expansion of the carefully limited ASW exception could be used by other nations to expand whaling rights for indigenous communities within their borders who claim a right to whale on the basis of alleged longstanding “tradition.”  Indeed, efforts to this effect are already in the works.  In fact, to bolster the claims of these communities, nations such as Japan have been lobbying Pacific Coast tribes for years in an effort to encourage the development of the “cultural whaling” exception.
  • If Permitted, the Hunt Would Doom the Pacific Coast Feeding Group (PCFG) to Certain Extinction:  In its DEIS, NMFS repeatedly (but dismissively) acknowledges the risks to a small population of resident Eastern Pacific gray whales — known as the Pacific Coast Feeding Group (PCFG) — occasioned by any degree of whale hunting and admits that a great deal of uncertainty remains as to whether PCFG whales are within their optimal sustainable population range, which is the bellwether of cetacean protection under the MMPA.  Despite this uncertainty, NMFS appears all too ready to authorize hunts of PCFG whales.  This error is compounded by NFMS’ decision to proceed with this DEIS without first determining whether the PCFG should be designated as a stock under the MMPA.  Throughout the DEIS, the agency repeatedly notes that it “does not recognize the PCFG as a ‘population stock’ as [it] interpret[s] that term under the MMPA, but [it] [has] stated that the PCFG seems to be a distinct feeding aggregation and may warrant consideration as a distinct stock in the future.”  U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Services, Northwest Region, Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Makah Tribe Request to Hunt Gray Whales (2015), at 5 -1, 3-36, 3-130, & 5-36  By its own admission, NMFS’ analysis of the Makah permit is flawed.
  • NMFS’ Analysis of Western North Pacific (WNP) Gray Whales is Fatally Deficient:  The population of the WNP gray whale stock is extremely small – numbering no more (and likely less) than 140 animals.  The WNP stock is also listed as “endangered” under the ESA and as “depleted” under the MMPA.  Despite these dire circumstances, NMFS provides very little analysis in the DEIS of the potential effects of hunt alternatives on the WNP stock.  NMFS’ abject failure to meaningfully address WNP whales is especially troubling given its admissions that the WNP stock is present in the Makah area and will likely be negatively affected by the proposed hunt.  Moreover, NMFS has acknowledged that Makah hunters would likely mistakenly pursue a WNP whale, and further admitted that “[t]he loss of a single whale, particularly if it were a reproductive female, would be a conservation concern for this small stock.”  What additional evidence does NMFS need to take the next logical step to conclude that, in light of the WNP stock’s precarious biological status and the high likelihood of, at the very least, extremely stressful encounters with the Makah hunters, absolutely no hunting should be permitted?  The answer is of course that the agency has preordained that tribal whaling, in one form or another, will take place.  This amounts to unlawful agency action.
  • NMFS Discounted and Overlooked Cumulative Impacts:  Under NEPA, it is not enough for NMFS to simply consider the impacts of the proposed hunt.  Rather, NMFS must also consider the “impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (Federal or non-Federal) or person undertakes such other actions.”  NMFS failed to consider  a multitude of cumulative impacts, including, for example, (1) military exercises, (2) marine energy and coastal development (e.g., a proposed phosphate mine near a critical nursery off Baja California), and (3) climate change.  When the impacts of these activities and phenomena are added to the baseline – as they must be under NEPA – the impacts of the Makah hunt become much more serious.

For these reasons and more, SSL strongly urged NMFS to reverse its apparent course and to approve the “No Action Alternative” (i.e. deny the request to hunt).  If the No Action Alternative receives approval, the WNP and PCFG gray whales will be permitted to continue feeding, playing and rearing their young in their ancestral waters without being chased, harpooned and shot.  These small populations of magnificent, social and highly intelligent beings will be given the gift, sought by all sentient life on the planet, to live out their lives in peace.  SSL cannot conceive of a better outcome.

Help fund our work to protect gray whales and other cetaceans.

Nota: Una traducción al español estará disponible muy pronto.

SSL Goes to Bat for the Common Thresher

On March 3, 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a positive 90-day finding on a petition to list the common thresher shark under the Endangered Species Act.  Based on information in the petition and available in NMFS’ files, NMFS found substantial evidence to suggest that a worldwide listing of the common thresher may be warranted.  NMFS placed particular emphasis on the common thresher’s continued decline due to recreational fishing, commercial fishing, by-catch, and direct catch associated with the trade in shark fins.

The common thresher stands out with its unique, whip-like caudal fin.

The common thresher stands out with its unique, whip-like caudal fin.

A thresher fin at market

A thresher fin at market

Although the positive 90-day finding is good news for the common thresher — and this shark could use some good news — it is too early to celebrate.  Under the ESA, a positive 90-day finding is simply a threshold decision indicating that further evaluation is merited.  Later, at the 12-month stage, NMFS could ultimately decide to reject the petition.

To bolster the case for listing, Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) joined forces with original petitioner Friends of Animals, as well as with Turtle Island Restoration Network and WildEarth Guardians.  We submitted extensive comments canvassing the many threats to the common thresher.  In particular, we highlighted the following factors:

  • Sharp population declines in significant portions of the common thresher’s range:  For example, recent studies of common thresher shark populations in two major regions, the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea, strongly suggest that the population has declined in these regions by 80% and 99%, respectively.
  • Overfishing by both the commercial and recreational sectors:  Thresher species (including the common thresher shark) make up approximately 2.3% of the Hong Kong shark fin market—the largest shark fin market in the world.  This equates to approximately 0.5 to 4.5 million sharks per year.  Recreational fisherman have also taken their toll.  The majority of recreationally-caught common thresher sharks are captured using a caudal-­based technique, in which the hook is placed in the shark’s tail fin and the fish is reeled in backwards.  This technique is incompatible with the shark’s respiratory system, which requires forward movement.  Caudal-based techniques are associated with high fatality rates, yet they continue to lead the pack in terms of popularity.
  • The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms:  Protective regulations exist in a limited number of jurisdictions, and even then enforcement is often weak and ineffective.
  • The common thresher’s intrinsic vulnerability:  Like most pelagic sharks, the common thresher is particularly vulnerable due to its long gestation period, slow growth, and relatively low fecundity.

Help us protect the common thresher and other sharks by making a donation.

Nota: Una traducción al español estará disponible muy pronto.

SSL Staff Named Members of IUCN’s World Commission on Environmental Law

Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) is pleased to announce that Legal Director and Executive Director are now members of the World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL).  The WCEL is a network of environmental law and policy experts from all regions of the world who volunteer their knowledge and services to IUCN activities, especially to those of the IUCN Law Programme. WCEL functions as an integral part of the IUCN Environmental Law Programme, which includes the Commission and the Environmental Law Centre.

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SSL plans to work with IUCN institutes and individual members to improve domestic and international law on marine wildlife and habitat.  This will build on our current efforts in Latin America.

Support our efforts here.

Nota: Una traducción al español estará disponible muy pronto.