Seismic testing for oil and gas reserves under the ocean floor from New Jersey to Florida — the area President Obama has authorized for extraction — is projected to "take" or kill as many as 38,637 marine mammals a year, according to an independent synthesis of the government's draft environmental impact statement.
The synthesis of data from thousands of pages published by the Interior Department's Bureau of Energy Management (the former Mineral Management Agency) was released by Clean Ocean Action, a 501(3)c non-profit organization.
In Atlantic City, N.J., Friday, BOEM held the last of a series of public hearings into the seismic testing.
Earlier in the week, at the April meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council, the industry was confronted with a decision to shutdown the inshore gillnet fishery for two months in the fall due to unacceptable take levels of harbor porpoises based on limited data projected through modeling.
The council also decided to engage skeptically in the planning for expected extreme limits on fishing throughout the range of the Atlantic sturgeon, which was granted protections in the Endangered Species Act. New England sturgeons are considered threatened while, throughout the rest of the range to Florida, the sturgeon has been put on the endangered list.
Massachusetts state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, the Gloucester Republican, said the harm to mammals from the planned seismic testing showed government operated with a hypocritical "double standard."
"How marine mammals are protected depends on who's seeking to protect them and who's going to disturb them," Tarr said in an interview. "There's no complaint if the rules are applied equally, but clearly they aren't."
Jim Lovgren, a New Jersey fisherman and spokesman for the Garden State Seafood Association, made much the same point in testimony prepared for delivery at the BOEM hearing in Atlantic City.
"The most outrageous aspect of this seismic testing proposal is its impact on marine mammals," said Lovgren, whose lawsuit challenging the catch share system for the Northeast groundfishery was subsumed into the suit filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford, now heading for oral arguments before the First U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Boston later this spring or in the fall.
"Your environmental impact statement estimates up to 138,612 Level A takes over an eight-year period starting in 2013," he said. "This includes an estimated 10 critically endangered Right Whales. Amazing.
"NMFS (the National Marine Fisheries Service) has held the fishing industry to what amounts to a zero tolerance of marine mammal takes in many fisheries and caused the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to the fishing industry and its supporting infrastructure in the last decade.
"In the last two weeks, NMFS has announced a two-month closure of the gillnet fisheries of the Gulf of Maine dur to porpoise interactions, and a coming massive closure of 40 different gillnet fisheries do Atlantic sturgeon interactions," Lovgren said. "Yet your department and the oil industry that runs you can cavalierly nuke every whale, dolphin and endangered species on the East Coast and no one cares."
"Why can Big Oil kill anything they want," he asked, "but the poor little fisherman gets crucified if he looks cross-eyed at a whale or dolphin?"
A number of New England Fishery Management Council members expressed anger and frustration that the decision by NOAA to grant sturgeon Endangered Species Act protection was made without the government ever having done a stock assessment of the ancient fish which spawns in rivers and is found all along the Atlantic Coast.
"The hypocrisy has become clearer and clearer," said state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, a Gloucester Democrat. "Government employees from Secret Service and GSA (General Services Administration) misbehave and they are fired; NOAA employees target our community; violate basic tenants of constitutional law; abuse taxpayer funds and get promoted."
"Fishermen, small local businesses and fishing communities cannot feed a nation or their families or conduct scientific research, in the name of conservation," she added. "But BP, and other foreign and domestic oil companies are allowed to kill approximately tens of thousands mammals just because ..."
"I guess NOAA has now revealed it was never about conservation," Ferrante said.
Clean Ocean Action reports that the BOEM's draft environmental impact for the seismic testing projects Level A "takes" over the eight years of projected testing total 138,612 marine mammals including up to 35 Baleen whales a year, 38,602 toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises a year and up to 2 North Atlantic a year. Level A takes from this testing effectively mean killing.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.