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For Immediate Release, June 24, 2010

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 658-5308

Petition Filed to Increase Protection of Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Devastated by Rushed Oil-drilling Permits

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal petition today urging the Bureau of Ocean Energy (formerly the Minerals Management Service) and National Marine Fisheries Service to increase conservation measures for essential fish habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. The agencies have failed to adequately analyze oil and gas activities that hurt habitat for fish and therefore the health of crucial fisheries — a violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

“Efforts to streamline oil-drilling approvals have resulted in important fish conservation requirements falling through the cracks,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “Now fisheries and Gulf fishing communities are paying a terrible price.”

Congress passed a law in 1996 designed to protect both fish and fishermen, yet the Minerals Management Service approved oil drilling in the Gulf with only superficial attention to this law, with disastrous consequences. Recognizing that habitat destruction is one of the greatest threats to fisheries, the law requires federal agencies to consult with the Fisheries Service before authorizing actions that hurt essential fish habitat — waters and substrate necessary for spawning, breeding, feeding and growth to maturity.

“Most federal agencies treat fish habitat consultations as a paper exercise rather than using the process to actually protect fish habitat,” said Sakashita. “The Gulf of Mexico is a tragic example of that failure.”

Offshore drilling has proceeded with very little attention to its impacts on fish and fisheries despite the Fisheries Service’s 2009 recommendation that “[t]he impacts of all exploratory and development activities on the fisheries resources should be determined prior to MMS approval of any applications for permits to drill, including effects of seismic survey signals on fish behavior, eggs and larvae.” The Minerals Management Service concluded that a subsurface blowout would have negligible effect on the Gulf’s fish resources. The Center’s petition seeks replacement of false and misleading statements like this with meaningful analysis of, and protections from, the adverse effects of oil and gas activities on essential fish habitat.

Fishing is one of the most important industries in the Gulf of Mexico. Recreational fishers in the Gulf take more than 20 million fishing trips annually, and in 2008 commercial fishermen harvested 1.27 million pounds of finfish and shellfish, earning $659 million in revenue. The Gulf of Mexico provides important spawning ground and year-round habitat for many fish species, including sharks, shrimp and coral. It is one of the only known spawning grounds for Atlantic bluefin tuna, which the Center petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act last month. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s effects on these fish and the Gulf’s fisheries will last for many years or decades.

Get the latest on the Gulf oil spill on the Center’s Gulf Disaster website, updated daily.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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