A clear national consensus enshrined in law for three decades to protect marine mammals is in danger of being tossed out the legislative window this week if leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives push through H.R. 5104 during the lame-duck session of Congress that started today.
H.R. 5104 punches a loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 that allows the commercial fishing industry to kill thousands more marine mammals than allowed under current law. The bill does this by removing a key deadline in the MMPA to significantly reduce the number of marine mammals – whales, dolphins, seals – captured and killed each year in commercial fishing operations.
“Congress enacted the MMPA to reflect a strong moral value felt across the land: that we Americans should do everything in our power to protect marine mammals from being killed needlessly,” said Andrew Sharpless, chief executive officer of Oceana. “Rolling back these protections is unacceptable. Unless key changes are made to H.R. 5104, Oceana strongly urges the House to make sure it does not pass.”
Every year, thousands of marine mammals are accidentally caught in commercial fishing gear. These animals are then tossed overboard, injured, dying or dead. A fundamental requirement of the MMPA is for commercial fishing operations, working with the National Marine Fisheries Service, to reduce the death and injury rate of marine mammals to insignificant levels.
Ten years ago, Congress set April 2001 as the deadline to meet this goal, but that deadline was not met. Rather than insisting that the Fisheries Service comply with the law, or even setting a new deadline, H.R. 5104 simply deletes the deadline.
“Deadlines work to make a federal agency take the law more seriously,” said Ted Morton, Oceana’s federal policy director. “Without a deadline to achieve results, efforts to reduce marine mammal deaths will stall.”