In what has become a troubling tradition in recent years, several members offered amendments to an appropriations bill that undermine critical wildlife protections. This time, the insidious riders were added to the Commerce, Justice and Science funding bill for the next fiscal year.
The first provision, introduced by Rep. Jeff Landry (R-Louisiana.), would prevent the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) from moving forward with a proposal to expand protections for sea turtles. Each year, some 28,000 threatened and endangered sea turtles are caught in shrimp fishing nets that are currently exempted from requirements to use turtle excluder devices, or TEDs, which allow turtles escape from the nets.
Existing regulations have required most shrimp boats to use TEDs since the 1990s, but a loophole in current law exempts some types of trawl fishing from the requirement. In 2010 and 2011, unprecedented numbers of dead sea turtles washed ashore, prompting Defenders and other conservation groups to call for this loophole to be closed. NMFS agreed and issued a proposed rule to do just that following settlement of litigation (see Defenders press release). Now, Rep. Landry’s amendment could short-circuit the public’s ability to weigh in on expansion of these protections.
The other appropriations rider, introduced by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-California), would effectively block the recovery of salmon populations in California’s San Joaquin River. Friant Dam, completed in the 1940s, diverted nearly 95 percent of the San Joaquin’s water away from the river for agriculture, wreaking havoc on salmon and putting many commercial fisherman out of business. After years of litigation and negotiations, farmers and fisherman finally reached a settlement agreement to restore salmon to the San Joaquin. However, Denham’s amendment would scuttle restoration efforts by denying much-needed funding. Notably, all parties to the settlement agreement continue to support salmon restoration and oppose legislation that modifies its requirements. Clearly, Rep Denham is catering to outside parties and playing politics with our endangered species.
Defenders will be watching the appropriations process very closely over the coming weeks and months and doing everything we can to make sure these provisions are dropped from the final bill. We’ll need your help to hold members of Congress accountable for maintaining vital funding for protecting all our imperiled wildlife.