Oceana this week filed the first-ever “Submission on Enforcement Matters” against the US government under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) for failing to enforce its environmental laws to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.
If these failures and violations continue, the US government will play a large role if those whales — of which only around 360 remain — go extinct, Oceana contends.
Under the USMCA, a person or organization can file a submission with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) if a USMCA party is not effectively enforcing its environmental laws, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.
According to Oceana, the United States is not effectively implementing numerous environmental laws to protect North Atlantic right whales from their primary threats of deadly fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes, as well as stressors from climate change, ocean noise, and offshore energy development.
The offending agencies/offices named in the submission include the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, NOAA Office of General Counsel, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy?Management.
According to Whitney Webber, campaign director at Oceana:
“It is clear that the U.S. government is failing North Atlantic right whales, and we hope this action will finally get these whales the protections they require. Oceana’s submission not only outlines all the ways that the government has failed to uphold its own environmental laws to protect North Atlantic right whales, but it also requires a government response. Until the U.S. government effectively acts on its legal obligations to protect North Atlantic right whales from top threats and prevent their extinction, Oceana will continue to use all tools available under the law to force action.”
Following the submission, the Secretariat for the CEC will review Oceana’s assertions, and the US government will be required to respond and explain its environmental “failures.” Ultimately, Oceana wants the submission process to result in the federal government significantly improving its protections for North Atlantic right whales.
You can read the full complaint here.
(Featured Image Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, taken under NOAA research permit #15488.)