CONSERVATIONISTS INITIATE CHALLENGE TO FISHERY SERVICE’S
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Brent Plater (510) 663-0616 or (415) 572-6989
The Center for Biological Diversity (“the Center”) submitted a 60-day notice (available here) to the National Marine Fisheries Service (“Fisheries Service”) today announcing that the group intends to sue the Fisheries Service for failing to protect the North Pacific right whale, Eubalaena japonica, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The Fisheries Service announced on February 20, 2002 that it would, in lieu of the Center’s request that the agency protect the species’ habitat immediately, conduct several studies and initiate recovery programs for the whale. To date, none of the actions or studies have been completed, the whale’s habitat remains unprotected, and most egregiously, the limited amount of funding that was dedicated to look for the species has been spent elsewhere. The Center’s suit will force the Fisheries Service to protect the species’ habitat by a date certain and encourage the recovery of the species.
“The Fisheries Service has abdicated its responsibility to protect this species. The right whale’s resurgence in the Bering Sea should be a symbol of hope for a region facing ecological collapse, but the Fisheries Service insists on treating the species like a pariah,” said Brent Plater, an attorney for the Center. “Instead of following through on its promises, the Service has actually stopped looking for this species and actively thwarted research efforts that aim to better understand the whales. Our country runs the risk of becoming the only nation to allow a great whale species to go extinct, and it’s happening on the Fishery Service’s watch.”
The North Pacific Right Whale is the most imperiled whale on Earth. It is so rare that in the 1980s a sighting of a single individual was deemed worthy of publication in scientific journals. However, beginning in 1996 scientists began to see a congregation of Right Whales annually in a portion of the Southeastern Bering Sea. In 2000, the Center for Biological Diversity (“the Center”) petitioned the Fisheries Service to designate that area as “critical habitat” for the species, a level of protection that the Fisheries Service has determined is “a necessary component of any effort to conserve and recover this species.” In response the Fisheries Service declined to protect any habitat for the whale, and instead announced an ambitious program to study the whales and implement recovery programs for the species. Among the promises made were:
• The preparation of a recovery plan. The Fisheries Service stated that it was “preparing a Recovery Plan for the North Pacific Right Whale” and that a “draft plan is expected to be available for public comment in 2002.” However, two years later no plan has been finalized and a draft plan was never distributed for public comment.
• Continue research into the biology of the species. The Fisheries Service stated that it intends to “attempt to satellite-tag North Pacific right whales” as part of ongoing efforts to protect essential habitat areas for the species. However, when presented with an opportunity to conduct satellite-tagging studies at only the cost of ship time, the Fisheries Service failed to prioritize ship time for the study, which prevented the study from going forward.
• Continue to survey for the species in the Bering Sea. The Fisheries Service stated that “recent survey effort[s] will continue at similar levels,” for the species. However, in 2003, the Fishery Service unilaterally halted all survey efforts for right whales, effectively ending seven-years of continuous sightings of the species.
“The fishery service has failed to take the most basic steps to protect this population,” said Eric Glitzenstein, an attorney with the law firm of Meyer & Glitzenstein which submitted the notice of violations of the ESA on behalf of the Center. “There is no recovery plan for the species, and there is no critical habitat designated. The Fishery Service’s original justification for its failure to act was a classic example of arbitrary and capricious decisionmaking, and the on-going failure to own-up to its promises has made matters all the worse.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization that protects endangered species and wild places through science, policy, education, and environmental law.
Meyer & Glitzenstein is a public-interest law firm in Washington D.C. that specializes in litigation under the Endangered Species Act and other environmental and animal protection laws
Photos, copies of the 60-day notice, and further information are available online at