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Commerce Committee Passes Kerry-Snowe Legislation to Protect Endangered Right Whales

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Commerce Committee Passes Kerry-Snowe Legislation to Protect Endangered Right Whales

Senator John Kerry today announced that the Commerce Committee has passed legislation that he introduced with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to protect right whales from ship strikes.

Kerry's "Ship Strike Reduction Act of 2008" requires the Secretary of Commerce to finalize a rule establishing speed limits for specified vessels in migratory paths of North Atlantic right whales. The federal rule enforcing the speed limits, known as "the Ship Strike Rule," has been in the works since 2004. It was sent to the Office of Management and Budget for final sign-off in 2007, and since then has been caught up in Bush Administration politics.

"This is a victory for one of the most endangered creatures on the planet. We've only got less than 350 whales left alive today and passage of this legislation comes at the eleventh hour. Ship strikes are responsible for 37% of whale deaths in just the last twenty two years. Without this legislation, the United States would have continued to risk extinction of the right whale," said Senator Kerry. "I'm pleased that the Commerce Department recognized the importance of taking action to enforce the speed limit to protect our right whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service led a 4-year rulemaking process to reduce collisions between whales and ships and the Bush administration dragged its feet holding up this rule for over a year. Today we can finally declare that help is on the way."

Kerry also added that "several impacted industries, such as ferry operators and shipping companies, have weighed in during the four-year rulemaking process, and it is vitally important that their concerns are reflected and that they continue to be part of the process of protecting the right whales. They are often the first to spot these elusive whales and are an essential player in the quest to save the right whales from extinction.

"The north Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered species of marine mammals, and passage of this bill would be a major step toward reducing the number of deaths of these creatures from ship strikes -- the single greatest cause of human-induced right whale mortalities," said Senator Snowe, the Ranking Member of the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. "Passage of this bill will ensure that the lobster industry, comprised of nearly 7,000 small business owners in my home state of Maine, will no longer be forced to bear all the responsibility for the solution to this problem when the multi-billion dollar shipping industry is far and away its leading cause."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has strongly endorsed the legislation.

"Today's decision offers a lifeline for North Atlantic right whales" says IFAW Washington, D.C., Office Director Jeffrey Flocken. "Saving endangered marine species is a shared responsibility, and Senator Kerry's leadership has been paramount in preserving the future of this iconic species and compelling the Administration to do their part."

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