We are in a time when the attacks on environmental protection laws in this country are at an unprecedented high. Efforts by Congress and the Trump Administration to roll back environmental and safety regulations are non-stop, extensive, and extremely harmful to the ecosystems that depend on those protections. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) has not escaped as a target, despite the law being highly effective, popular with US voters, and desperately needed.
Yesterday’s Congressional hearing entitled “Enhancing the Marine Mammal Protection Act” offered nothing in the way of enhancing protections for marine mammals; voices supporting the Act were drowned out by the blatantly biased efforts to reduce protections.
- The tone of the hearing was set with the opening remarks of U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan from Alaska who made it clear he was looking for reduced protections for marine mammals, not enhanced. Sullivan commented on the need to protect communities in a “sustainable balance” referencing the “overly broad bans on the sale of ivory including walrus ivory”.
- Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, Chris Oliver, spent much of his testimony listing reductions in current protections as an achievement. This is a sad and ironic twist given that Oliver’s role is charged with applying the Act to ensure the protection of marine mammals, not making it easier to harass them. Highlighting his Agency’s successes, Oliver testified that the amount of time it now takes to get authorized permits to harass marine mammals has been reduced and noted the Act has been streamlined to allow additional “takes” of marine mammals.
- Mr. Guy Norman of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council solely blamed sea lions for the failing recovery of endangered salmon (and as a result, endangered orcas, their predators), ignoring the significant impacts of dams.
- While Dr. Rae Stone of Dolphin Quest did acknowledge the benefits of the Prescott stranding grants allocated under the Act, she primarily used her time to defend the captivity industry.
- The hope for a more meaningful discussion on the merits of the Act and the need to protect the imperilled North Atlantic right whale by Senator Markey (D-MA) was short lived when he chose to solely blame Canada for the fate of the species. Largely ignoring the significant efforts put forward by Canada last month, as well as the significant lack of additional efforts from the US, Markey used his time to request that NOAA consider additional import restrictions from Canada.
Whatever hope marine mammals had in the Chamber was left to Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Jane Davenport, Senior Attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. Senator Baldwin’s stalwart remarks about the Act and the importance of a healthy ocean to us all were a welcome reprieve, as were Senator Blumenthal’s comments on the need for marine protections. Blumenthal cited the value of the most recently designated Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument and the importance of federal funding for marine mammal conservation efforts.
While we are grateful to Senators Baldwin and Blumenthal for their support, it was Jane Davenport who provided the ONLY discussion on direct benefits of the Act, referencing everything from the social and economic benefits of whale watching to the reduction in bycatch of harbor porpoise. Jane mentioned that yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the founding of Defenders of Wildlife. Happy Birthday Defenders! Congress didn’t give you any gifts, but you were certainly the only gift marine mammals received in Congress yesterday.
While we don’t know what, if any, outcomes will result from yesterday’s hearing, we will be ready to take action to protect marine mammals if and when the time comes.
Want to help?
SPEAK UP! Say thank you to Senator Blumenthal and Senator Baldwin for defending the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Not sure what to say? Consider this template.
I want to thank you for voicing your support of marine mammals during the April 25th hearing “Enhancing the Marine Mammal Protection Act”. As a US citizen concerned with protections for marine mammals, I appreciate your support during a time when Congressional and Administrative concern for marine mammals is dwindling. Their important role in global ecosystems, economies, and human livelihoods cannot be understated and I urge you to continue promoting the importance of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.