National Marine Fisheries Service finalizes decision to make ship strike protections for endangered whales permanent

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Washington, D.C. (December 6, 2013)-- Today the National Marine Fisheries Service finalized a rule originally introduced in 2008 to set permanent protections for endangered whales from ship strikes.  The rule maintains current speed zones for vessels over 65 feet in key areas for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. Ship strikes are a leading cause of death for this species and others in North Atlantic waters along the heavily trafficked eastern seaboard.

Statement by Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife

 “Permanently maintaining slower speed zones in waters frequented by North Atlantic right whales is a key step in helping this critically endangered species to recovery. The conservation benefit of these zones has been conclusively proven: over the past five years, ship strikes have been eliminated in designated speed zones.  Defenders has fought hard for this positive step forward, and it couldn’t be more timely as we approach the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.

“The right whale has come a long way since it was nearly hunted to extinction in North Atlantic waters, but more needs to be done. We still need to expand protections for whales. Speed zones should also apply to vessels under 65 feet. And NMFS still needs to address the problem of fishing gear entanglement, another leading cause of death for the North Atlantic right whale.

“Let’s continue to take steps toward recovery for this iconic whale. Today’s decision leaves the path wide open.”

Background

The rule’s economic costs to the shipping industry have been demonstrated to be significantly lower than projected. Defenders of Wildlife and our partners in the effort to recover right whales strongly supported NMFS’s proposal to make the rule permanent.

The current ship strike rule had a sunset clause in place that set it to expire on December 9th of this year. The new rule, however, has no expiration date, and will continue to be monitored for its effectiveness and impacts.

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Contact: Haley McKey, (202)-772-0247, hmckey@defenders.org

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.

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