Check Juristic Petition Aims to Protect Alaska Cook Inlet Beluga

WASHINGTON – the Center for Biological Diversity, The Environmental Investigation Agency, The Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Cook Inletkeeper today filed a petition asking the Secretary of Commerce and the National Sea Fisheries Service to stop issuing “fishing licenses” to oil companies and others to harm Cook Inlet and harass beluga cetacean in Alaska.

This subpopulation of endangered beluga cetacean has decreased by more than 75% since 1970. Scientists estimate that only 279 individuals remain. Experts have warned that if the Cook Inlet beluga population falls to 200 individuals, it could cross a critical threshold at which low population dynamics will prevent recovery.

Although a Plan for the restoration of Cook Inlet belugas was developed five years ago, the federal government has continued to approve an extremely high number of “fishing permits” allowing the unjustified harassment of belugas in connection with a variety of activities in Cook Inlet. The “catch” prohibited by federal law includes actions that interfere with behavior, including Migration, breathing, reproduction or feeding.

“In the last three years, the federal government has surprisingly allowed every member of this small, struggling population of Cook Inlet belugas to be harassed more than 80 times,” said Nicole Schmitt, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. “Before the Fisheries authority authorizes further nuisances, we ask you to fully examine their cumulative effects and make informed decisions on the extent of harassment of this vulnerable Population each year.”

Nothing that amounts to 50% to the Ministry of Fisheries in 2020 corresponds to the entire beluga population in Cook Inlet, which is harassed “on the side” by projects in Industry and commerce in the Inlet, including activities related to the development of the oil and gas industry and piles – a number that is increasing

“Our beluga population is a big part of what makes Cook Inlet so incredibly special — nowhere else in the country can you drive on the highway and see these awesome cetacean from your car window,” said Liz Mering, Inletkeeper for Cook Inletkeeper. “Unfortunately, this population continues to decline regardless of its vulnerable status, while the oil and gas industry and others are allowed to harm and harass these cetacean to extinction.”

The petition asks the Biden administration to publish a new regulation establishing an annual “catch ceiling” for Cook Inlet belugas and to set it to zero until a programmatic review of the cumulative impact of the permit system is completed and Cook Inlet belugas show signs of recovery.

“The federal government is allowing the oil industry to harm and harass some of the world’s most endangered cetacean, despite warnings from leading scientists,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, senior staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Federal Commission for Marine Mammals and other experts have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the decline of these cetacean and stressed the urgent need for reforms. The Biden administration needs to fix this broken system, or we will lose the Cook Inlet beluga population forever.”

The petition asks the Fisheries service to clearly address the cumulative effects that these animals face due to various stressors, including underwater noise, pollution, the risk of a catastrophic event such as an oil spill and reduced prey availability.

“In its own 2016 Restoration Plan for the Confederation at Cook Inlet, the Peaches service highlighted the peril of cumulative impact for cetacean and recommended a reassessment of how permits can be issued, and still five years after we are faced with a population still in decline, an authority that approves a massive number of permits and no reassessment of the system,” explains CT, Harry, Senior Marino activist and scientific environmental studies agency. “Cook Inlet is the only home for these charismatic cetacean, and they deserve to swim, feed and breed in a healthy environment, not in an environment full of artificial stressors.”

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