On May 17th, Rep. Gallegly made a floor statement for his amendment, formerly House Bill HR 4043, to the 2013 House National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to establish “Military Readiness Areas” and provide unprecedented protections for all commercial fishery interests in Southern California.
Unfortunately, Rep. Gallegly’s amendment was accepted and added to the Bill.
Although the original language requiring an ecosystem management plan, assessment of carrying capacity for sea otters, and continuation of the translocation program and the “no-otter” management zone is not in the amendment, commercial shellfish fisheries exemptions for “incidental take” of sea otters is included.
“Incidental Take” means the accidental capture, or death, of a sea otter during the course of an otherwise lawful act (e.g. military training, commercial fishing).
We were originally opposed to the entire Bill, when introduced, but compromised on the military exemptions for “incidental take.” In other words, the military can accidentally kill an otter in the course of their training exercises and that would be acceptable within the realm of National Defense.
Unfortunately, shellfish fisheries think that they deserve the same exemption. The problem with fisheries having this exemption is that sea otters are natural competitors with shellfish fisheries. If a fisherman runs over a sea otter in their boat or “catches” an otter in a net or “by accident” then this will not be considered as a violation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) or the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
Now with the new amendment in the NDAA, southern sea otters will not regain protection under ESA and MMPA in Southern California with respect to all fisheries in Southern California even when the US Fish and Wildlife Service make their final decision to end the translocation program and management zone in December 2012.
The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House last Friday, May 18, 2012, with Rep. Gallegly’s amendment included. The Senate will now pass their version of the National Defense Bill. The two bills will then go before another committee to reconcile the differences in language before it goes to the President.
If the NDAA passes through this committee with the fisheries exemptions included, this will set an unfortunate precedent for the protection of the threatened southern sea otter and other threatened or endangered species. If a single special interest group can get an exemption for a particular species, what is to stop other special interest groups from seeking legislative protections hidden in other Congressional Bills?