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Dan Sullivan

02/26/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/26/2020 19:08

Sullivan Raises Concerns On Overly Expansive Humpback Whale Habitat Designation

02.26.20

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) sent a letter this month to Dr. Neil Jacobs, acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere - the acting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator - urging the revision of a proposed rule, issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), designating critical habitat for humpback whales in the North Pacific. Specifically, Sullivan asks Dr. Jacobs to exclude much of Alaska's coastal areas, particularly in Southeast where the projected economic impacts would be highest and where little conservation value is added for the listed Distinct Population Segments (DPS) in the proposed rule. Sullivan also highlighted the uncertainty involved in the designation process due to a lack of data.

The proposed designation would significantly increase the regulatory burden on small coastal communities in Alaska due to restrictions in construction, subsistence activities, fishing, tourism, and more, as has been experienced in previous critical habitat designations. NMFS is putting forward the proposed critical habitat designations in an effort to protect feeding grounds for three endangered or threatened populations of humpback whale in the Western Pacific as a result of a 2018 settlement agreement between the Trump administration and several radical environmental groups. Senator Sullivan argues that the proposed designation is overly expansive, diluting any potential conservation benefits, and fails to recognize the significant economic consequences that would be incurred by Alaskans. Multiple Alaskan communities have reached out in anticipation of the significant negative impacts associated with critical habitat designation, particularly in Southeast Alaska.

'Even in the absence of a critical habitat designation, humpback whale abundance in the North Pacific appears to be increasing, which speaks to existing management provisions being a success,' Senator Sullivan wrote. 'Significant negative impacts can be expected as a result of designating the majority of the Gulf of Alaska's coastline, along with significant parts of the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea … The lack of data, along with the potential economic burdens that could result from this action should be better understood before this rule is implemented and Alaskans are forced to endure the results.'

In his letter, Sullivan also notes that the proposed area for habitat designation in Alaska does not have meaningful conservation benefits for the Mexico Distinct Population Segment (DPS) humpback whales in comparison to the West Coast of the contiguous United States, as the primary feeding grounds for this group are there, not Alaska.

'The NMFS conclusion that designating critical habitat will ultimately be beneficial is flawed given the vast areas proposed for designation,' Senator Sullivan added. 'The primary feeding grounds for the Mexico DPS are along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington, however, the proposed habitat designation is largely located in waters off of Alaska. This places a disproportionate burden on Alaskans.'

To read the full letter sent by Senator Sullivan, click here.

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