Oceana filing with USMCA demands US federal action on right whales

Published on
October 4, 2021
Four right whales swimming. Oceana has filed the first-ever Submission on Enforcement Matters against the U.S. government under the recent United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement claiming not enough is being done to protect them.

Non-governmental organization Oceana announced on 4 October it has filed the first-ever Submission on Enforcement Matters against the U.S. government under the recent United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Signed in 2019, the USMCA is a free-trade agreement between the three countries that includes mechanisms such as the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). Under the new agreement, a person or organization can file a “Submission on Enforcement Matters” with the CEC if one of the three countries in the USMCA is not enforcing its environmental laws.

According to the filing by Oceana, the U.S. is not implementing existing laws – such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act – to effectively protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which just a few hundred remain.

“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 Campaign Director Whitney Webber said in a release.

Oceana’s filing asserts that the government is not doing enough to protect the whales from things like fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes, in addition to other impacts like ocean noise and climate change. Named in the filing are the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, NOAA Office of General Council, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

“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,” Webber said. “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.” 

The filing requests the CEC Secretariat create a “factual record” to “clarify the many ways the U.S. government has failed to effectively enforce its environmental laws.” The U.S. will then be required to respond to the results.

“Ultimately, Oceana’s intent is that the submission process will result in the federal government significantly improving its protections for North Atlantic right whales,” Oceana said.

Oceana is one of many environmental organizations who have called new rules designed to protect right whales from fishing-related entanglements inadequate. The new rules were created after a federal judge ruled in 2020 that the U.S. lobster fishery was violating the Endangered Species Act in response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and other nonprofits.

Photo courtesy of NOAA

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