To the attention of The Honorable Hunter Tootoo, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
In a press release dated January 26, 2016, NOAA has expanded its Right Whale “critical habitat” from 2,925 nm2 to 21,334 nm2. This represents more “good news” for North Atlantic Right Whales as they continue to slowly increase their numbers. However. as this summer has shown, Right Whales appear to be seeking forage as far north as the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is clear that there are serious ecological changes taking place and the future of marine mammals remains uncertain. An examination of the accompanying map shows NOAA’s critical habitat adjacent to areas that fall within Canada’s jurisdiction; particularly Georges Bank and the Outer Bay of Fundy where Canada and Nova Scotia are pushing energy developments which undoubtedly will impact Right Whales and other endangered and listed species. This is the perfect time for the Canadian government to expand its range and definition of rights within this critical area. As we all know, under Canadian law, the habitat of endangered species is subject to protection under the law. If this remains true, then it is vital to establish the parameters and limits for development in this expanded critical area … in much the same way as NOAA has done. We are looking forward to hearing your response to the recent news from our neighbour to the south.
NOAA’s public position:
“With two decades of new information and improved understanding since we first designated critical habitat for the species, we believe the expansion will further protect essential foraging and calving areas to further improve recovery of this animal,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We’re making significant progress in reversing the population decline of the species, and are seeing signs of recovery – up to about 500 animals from the estimated 300 in 1994. But we still have a long way to get to complete recovery.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat within the range of the species consists of areas that contain physical or biological features essential to conservation of the species. The new designation does not create preserves or refuges or any other restrictions that directly affect the public. However, federal agencies conducting, funding or permitting activities in these areas, and project proponents that need federal permits or funding for such activities, are required to work with NOAA Fisheries to avoid or reduce impacts on critical habitat.
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