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December 18, 2018

Environmentalists Move to Stop Fishing Nets From Drowning Endangered Whales

Three environmental groups have put the U.S. government on notice that they will file a lawsuit to force a ban on drift gill net fishing off the California coast, a practice that can ensnare and kill whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and other marine life.

The group Oceana, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, sent a 60-day notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for not adopting permanent measures to protect endangered sperm whales.

California gill nets killed an estimated 16 sperm whales in 2010, the groups contend, exceeding the maximum number of deaths the sperm whale population can sustain and still recover.

Drift gill nets are mile-long nets laid across the water overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. Environmentalists call them “curtains of death” as they also trap marine mammals and sea turtles.

“Every year that drift gillnets are used off the California coast to catch swordfish, the result is that iconic whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and thousands of fish are ensnared and killed as bycatch,” Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director, said in a statement. “Ultimately this gear type must be fully prohibited off the West Coast so we can have a sustainable swordfish fishery.”

More than 650 marine mammals have been killed by gill net fishing off the California coast since 2001, according to the environmental groups.

The California fishery in dispute stretches from the Mexican border to San Francisco, and about 150 miles out to sea.

Earlier this month, Oceana sent a letter to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, an advisory board to NMFS, demanding that the agency adhere to regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) requiring fisheries to “reduce incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals to insignificant levels approaching a zero.”

Drift gill nets are efficient killers. While some large whales manage to break free from them, the nets can entangle their fins and flukes, creating considerable drag that depletes energy reserves.

The groups are calling on NMFS to reduce bycatch by requiring more selective fishing methods and accurate reporting of bycatch.

Swordfish can be caught with harpoons, a method that creates zero bycatch, according to Oceana.

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations did not respond to a request for comment.

At a meeting on Monday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council debated proposals to impose “hard caps” on the number of endangered marine species that are injured or killed by the industry.

“They want to incentivize fishermen to take measures to avoid bycatches, which may lead to more innovations for how they fish,” said Mark Helvey, NMFS West Coast program director for highly migratory species.

Another option is to close down the fishery for the remainder of the swordfish season, from roughly September to January, if numbers exceed targets. The council is set to deliver a final recommendation in March.

For now, catching unintended marine species in gillnets is technically legal.

Helvey said the death of endangered or threatened marine mammals species, such as sperm and humpback whales, from gill nets was rare. California fishermen, he added, are required to place pingers on the nets. “They deter animals, which become aware that something is ahead,” he said. Nets must also be placed 36 feet below the surface to allow animals to swim over them.

That doesn’t satisfy conservationists.

“These nets have become a death trap for many species beyond swordfish,” said Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time to start looking for less lethal ways to ;fish.”

Related stories on TakePart:

Why Is the World Ignoring Iceland’s Growing Slaughter of Endangered Whales?

California’s Blue Whales Are Surviving and Thriving

This Map Shows Where Dolphins Captured at the Cove in 2013 Were Sold

Does Whale Watching in the Name of Conservation Do More Harm Than Good?

Original article from TakePart

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Environmentalists Move to Stop Fishing Nets From Drowning Endangered Whales

Sandy-hit towns wrestle with eminent-domain choice

ASHAROKEN, N.Y. (AP) — On a tiny spit of land off Long Island, the wealthy village of Asharoken faces a dilemma borne of Superstorm Sandy.

Either it accepts millions of dollars in federal aid to build a protective sand dune and for the first time in its nearly 90-year existence allows the public to use its beach or it rejects the aid and retains its privacy, potentially worsening an erosion problem that saw part of its main road washed out and power lines toppled during the October 2012 storm.

But some of the 600-plus residents in the village of million-dollar homes worry opening up the area could lead to traffic problems, trespassing and more garbage.

“I think privacy, pollution and safety, these are the three main concerns,” resident Asenneth Elsin said. “I don’t have a problem sharing, but unfortunately there will be people not following the rules.”

Asharoken is just one place where the tussle among coastal protection, property rights, public access and federal funding is playing out in New York and New Jersey, both hit hard by the storm.

Much of the damage was caused by storm surge, which flooded or destroyed homes and washed out boardwalks. In some places, such as Surf City on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, dunes held off serious damage while neighboring communities without such protection were nearly wiped out.

Now there’s a movement afoot to build or replenish dunes before the next storm. After Sandy, Congress granted the Army Corps $5.3 billion to study damaged areas and for projects to build dunes, enlarge beaches and install structures to slow sand movement.

Before work can begin, though, property owners must sign agreements allowing access to parts of their property for eternity. And to get the federal funding, communities must agree to provide public routes to the funded beaches.

If they decide to keep the beaches to themselves, it’s either find a way to pay for dunes or risk getting flooded again.

New York and New Jersey officials have said they’re committed to seeing the work through, even if it means getting courts involved. They say taking property by eminent domain is a possibility.

Asharoken lies between Long Island Sound and a harbor on the narrowest part of a peninsula connecting mainland Long Island with the community of Eaton’s Neck at the tip. It has about 300 homes. Residents who don’t live on the water can buy beach-only lots, and they leave kayaks, patio sets, umbrellas and more on the property.

The Corps is studying an estimated $30 million plan to build a dune and berm and enlarge the beach. In a letter to residents, Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica said if the village didn’t accept the federal funding it would cost homeowners up to $100,000 apiece to restore the beach.

If the Corps project moves forward, Asharoken may have to take property to create public beach access and compensate homeowners. The problem: Because of its small population, it has an annual budget of just over $2 million, so Letica is asking officials to ease the public access requirement.

Asharoken is among several places in New York where the Corps is studying or building dunes.

Some structures may be demolished on Fire Island, a barrier island for Long Island that’s dotted with beachside communities and home to a national seashore, to make way for a project.

Breezy Point, a cooperative on Queens’ Rockaway Peninsula that flooded and burned during Sandy, was given a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to study building a $57 million dune with a sea wall.

In New Jersey, 11 Corps projects are planned, but it hasn’t gotten all homeowners to sign easements.

“We’re looking to make our shores more resilient,” said Bob Considine, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “We’re doing this for the good of the entire shore and New Jersey.”

A 14-mile dune project from Manasquan Inlet to Barnegat Inlet has some of the most holdouts, with the boroughs of Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach accounting for nearly 200.

In Point Pleasant Beach, much of the boardwalk and beach are privately owned to the mean high-water mark, and several large businesses operate amusements there.

Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, the largest beachfront property owner, said building a dune would erase beach areas where volleyball, movies, weddings and other events are held. The owners said they don’t believe a dune would stop flooding because properties behind Jenkinson’s weren’t flooded by Sandy’s surge.

The borough has approved granting an easement on property it owns, but 69 other property owners haven’t.

“I understand their concerns, and in a perfect world we wouldn’t do this,” Mayor Vincent Barrella said. “But we don’t have that. We live in a post-Sandy world.”

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Emily C. Dooley, a Newsday reporter on leave, is studying community resilience issues, the ability of communities to bounce back from various shocks, as part of a nine-month fellowship at the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which joins NORC’s independent research and AP journalism. The fellowship is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

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Sandy-hit towns wrestle with eminent-domain choice