Scientific Misrepresentations Sinking North Atlantic Right Whale

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For Immediate Release: Oct 03, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Federal Officials Ignored Science to Benefit Fisheries

Boston — The federal agency charged with saving the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale from extinction has been doing the opposite, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The National Marine Fisheries Service has made false or misleading representations and omitted mention of scientific research, much of it authored by NMFS’ own scientists, showing that more protections are needed for this imperiled marine mammal.

Today, there are fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales left in existence. A primary cause of right whale injury and mortality is entanglements in fishing gear. Yet, NMFS has not implemented decisive measures to reduce these entanglements, due in part to fishing industry opposition.

In response to litigation brought under the Endangered Species Act against NMFS to keep certain fishing areas closed to limit entanglements, the agency has implied that a scientific consensus exists in NMFS that reopening of restricted fishing areas would not adversely affect the right whale. In fact, the opposite is true, and many of the critical scientific findings are authored by NMFS’ own scientists in articles published by peer-reviewed journals.

“The National Marine Fisheries Service is undermining both the Endangered Species Act and its own scientists,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, pointing to filings submitted this July and August in pending litigation. “Besides being deliberate, these misrepresentations are crude because what NMFS denied is published in open journals.”

PEER asked the Office Inspector General for the Department of Commerce (NMFS’ parent agency) to open an investigation to determine which senior NMFS officials ordered the misrepresentations, whether directions were issued from above, and what steps are needed to prevent recurrences. The complaint also puts the Department of Justice on notice that its lawyers have been misled by their client agency and their court pleadings should be reexamined.

Beyond this right whale litigation, a larger issue is federal agencies censoring what are supposed to be complete and accurate administrative records supporting official acts. This practice has grown more pronounced during a Trump tenure characterized by embrace of “alternative facts.”

“These misrepresentations undermine the faithful execution of law and the administration of justice, and further endanger the right whale,” added Bennett.


Read the PEER complaint

Look at growing alarm bells on right whale plight

See PEER proposal to protect administrative records from censorship

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