ESA Section 7 consultation re-initiated for right whales; new TRT subgroups formed

As this issue was going to press in mid-January, three environmental groups filed a lawsuit against NOAA Fisheries and the Dept. of Commerce in an effort to force the federal government to provide greater protection for North Atlantic right whales.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Humane Society of the United States allege in their suit that the federal government has failed to manage the fishing industry by not enforcing the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The federal government has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit. —Editor.

GLOUCESTER, MA – The timing of the 17 North Atlantic right whale deaths in 2017 occurred during the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) right whale five-year review, under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that began in July 2016.

Five-year reviews summarize the latest research findings for listed species, and determine whether the current status of the species as endangered or threatened is still appropriate. Reviews also make recommendations for future actions to assist species recovery.

ESA Section 7 requires an interagency review and periodic updates to determine whether a federal agency action will jeopardize a species listed as endangered.  If so, the agency must prepare reasonable and prudent measures (RPMs) or reasonable and prudent alternatives (RPAs).

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) conducted a Section 7 consultation in 2012 on combined (or “batched”) fishery decisions for 7 fisheries, concluding with one Fishery Batch BiOp that found that the fisheries were not likely to adversely affect the right whale population or critically affect its habitat.

In 2014, the BiOp for American lobster also concluded that the fishing management actions did not adversely affect right whales; likewise an even older similar BiOp from 2002 for Atlantic deep sea red crabs.

Those past opinions were based on the assumption that the right whale population was increasing, as it had from 1990 to 2010, said Mark Murray-Brown, Section 7 coordinator at NMFS’ Greater Atlantic Fisheries Region Office (GARFO).

Even without the recent information documenting the decline in…

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