On the heels of President Bush's creation of three vast marine national monuments in the Pacific comes some not-so-great news about the outgoing president's stewardship of the oceans. In a new report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (my personal favorite of the federal agencies for its malfeasance-ferreting-out ways) has found that the National Marine Fisheries Service has failed to protect several marine mammal species, even though it's required by law. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the federal government is required to reduce the number of marine mammals that are incidentally killed by commercial fishing activities. For example, the North Atlantic right whale can be caught in lobster trap lines; pilot whales can be trapped in longline gear used to catch tuna; and dolphins and porpoises can be ensnared in nets set to catch cod and salmon. The GAO found that the National Marine Fisheries Service has been unable to establish plans to protect 14 of the 30 marine mammals required by law due to a lack of funding and insufficient data. And five of those species - the western Atlantic stock of North Atlantic right whales, the Gulf of Maine stock of humpback whales, the Gulf of Maine/Bay of Fundy harbor porpoises, the California long-beaked common dolphins and the Hawaiian false killer whales - are incidentally caught at unsustainable levels. That means the fishing activities seriously threaten the mammals' ability to survive. Laws to protect animals can't work if they're not implemented. This new report demonstrates just how much work is left to be done to protect marine mammals.
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