Farewell to marine mammal protections

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1994:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Only par-
tially enforced since 1988, the Marine
Mammal Protection Act appears likely to be
reauthorized with markedly less clout for
whales, seals, and dolphins than it once had.
The House version of the reautho-
rization bill, HR 2760, easily cleared the
Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee on
March 16 after adoption of an amendment by
Rep. Jolene Unsoeld and Maria Cantwell
(both D-Wash.) that would allow the govern-
ment to issue permits for killing marine mam-
mals whose predation might depress the num-
bers of a potentially threatened animal.

Previously, such permits were issued only to
protect actual threatened or endangered
species. Unsoeld and Cantwell added the
amendment on behalf of the fishing industry,
which blames sea lion predation at the Ballard
Locks near Seattle––rather than overfish-
ing––for the collapse of Cedar River salmon
and steelhead runs.
Approval by the full House was
expected on March 24. Pressure for swift pas-
sage and prompt Senate ratification was
intense because the 1988 suspension of central
provisions on behalf of commercial net fishers
was to expire on April 1. The 1988 suspen-
sion was rationalized as an opportunity for the
government to assess the status of marine
mammals under “normal” conditions. An
immediate rise in the number of dolphins
killed in fishing nets was partially checked by
the 1990 consumer boycott of tuna netted “on
dolphin,” but government records indicate
more than 100,000 marine mammals per year
continue to be killed through entanglement in
nets and other conflicts with humans.
The New York Times reported on
March 14 that, “Some species, like the har-
bor porpoise, have been depleted to the point
where their replenishment is in doubt.”
Adele Douglass, Washington D.C.
director for American Humane
Association, noted six specific weakness-
es in HR 2760 even before a last-minute
flurry of amendments. Objected Douglass,
“It will allow the killing of endangered
marine mammals by fishermen. This has
always been prohibited. It will allow the
intentional killing of marine mammals
such as seals and sea lions by permit,
enabling people who raise fish in hatch-
eries to kill marine mammals to increase
their profits. It will allow fishermen to
self-report the number of marine mammals
they kill, despite past data showing that
they grossly underreport the numbers. It
will eliminate the requirement for autho-
rized scientific observers to monitor
marine mammal kills. It will eliminate the
requirement for every fishing vessel to
register with the government. And it will
weaken the ability of the U.S. government
to embargo fish products from other coun-
tries that catch fish in ways that harm
marine mammals.”
The MMPA was further weak-
ened with a March 9 amendment by Don
Young (R-Alaska), which allows the
import of pelts from polar bears killed
abroad––a boon to trophy hunters but a
threat to polar bears in Russia and Canada.
During a February 21 House
hearing on the MMPA, Young shook the
penis bone of a walrus at U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service director Mollie Beattie
when she suggested that the definition of
subsistence hunting by Native Americans
should be tightened to stop the slaughter of
walruses, seals, and polar bears for sale of
body parts to the Asian aphrodisiac trade.
Selling the body parts is legal as long as
they have been fashioned into “native hand-
icrafts,” which in the case of penis bones
may mean only drying and polishing.
“Subsistence is none of your busi-
ness,” Young shouted, slapping the 18-
inch penis bone against his hand like a
nightstick. “If you want to get into a real
discussion, young lady, we will. You just
remember where I am and where you are.”
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