Trump administration cancels proposed limits on marine mammals and sea turtles trapped in fishing nets

The Trump administration announced Monday that it has canceled proposed limits on the number of endangered whales, dolphins and sea turtles that can be killed or injured by sword-fishing nets on the West Coast.

Although the restriction, proposed in 2015, was supported by both the fishing industry and environmental groups, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries division said studies show that the pending rule is not warranted because other protections have dramatically reduced the number of marine mammals and turtles trapped in long, drifting gill nets.

“The fishery has been under pressure for years to reduce its impact, and it has been very successful doing that,” said Michael Milstein, a NOAA fisheries spokesman. “The cap would have imposed a cost on the industry to solve a problem that has already been addressed.”

The decision brought immediate criticism from environmental groups that had joined the Pacific Fishery Management Council in an effort to further protect a variety of marine mammals and turtles.

The list included endangered fin, humpback, and sperm whales; short-finned pilot whales and common bottlenose dolphins; as well as endangered leatherback sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, olive ridley sea turtles and green sea turtles.

“The Trump administration has declared war on whales, dolphins and turtles off the coast of California,” said Todd Steiner, director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network, which is based in Northern California. “This determination will only lead to more potential litigation and legislation involving this fishery. It’s not a good sign.”

Catherine Kilduff, a senior attorney for the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, said the action is one of the first by the Trump administration to target protections for threatened species along the Pacific coast.

She noted that the president wants to dismantle other federal programs that protect endangered marine mammals.

The 14-member Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages fisheries in California, Oregon and Washington, recommended that the federal government adopt the restrictions in 2015.

Under the proposal, if any two endangered whales or sea turtles are killed or seriously hurt within a two-year period, the gill net fishery would be closed for up to two years.

The fishery also would be shut down if any combination of four short-finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins were seriously injured or killed within a two-year period.

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