Proposed Alaska whale sanctuary criticized


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
December 2, 2009

Alaska legislators and officials are voicing their objections to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s proposal to designate more than 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet as beluga whale critical habitat, which could restrict fishing activity in the area.

Four species of Pacific salmon — chinook, sockeye, coho and chum — are listed as essential elements in the proposed critical habitat, which could lead to federal involvement in inlet’s salmon fisheries.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski released statements criticizing the proposal.

“Development in Cook Inlet is necessary for Alaska’s economy, and we’ve taken numerous steps to ensure that it can coexist with the fish and wildlife of the region,” said Begich.

Murkowski echoed Begich’s concerns: “Our experience with critical habitat in other areas of the state is that a designation can sometimes lead to costly delays in permitting, construction and protracted litigation.”

Both Begich and Murkowski urged Alaskans to weigh in during NOAA’s 60-day comment period for the proposal.

The Bush administration first listed Cook Inlet’s beluga population as endangered in October 2008, which met strong resistance from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

On Tuesday, Palin’s successor, Sean Parnell, voiced his objections to the proposal, saying that since beluga’s addition to the endangered species list the critical habitat has been anticipated.

“Listing more than 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet as critical habitat would do little to help grow the beluga population, but it would devastate economic opportunities in the region,” said Parnell. “The beluga whale population has been coexisting with industry for years. The main threat facing belugas was over-harvest, which is now regulated under a cooperative harvest management plan.”

Doug Vincent-Lang of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game added: “We are concerned about the effect this could have on commercial, recreational and personal-use fishing opportunities throughout Cook Inlet fisheries.”

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