Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. V No. 1 January 1996


CETACEANS: HIDDEN VICTIMS OF THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

by Kate O'Connell, CSI Board of Directors


Believe it or not, marine mammal issues have fallen victim to the unending debate over the budget that has haunted Congress for the past two months. Not only has the legislative process ground to a halt, putting in question various pieces of legislation having to do with marine mammal protection, it has also meant that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency most responsible for whale and dolphin related issues has suffered the effects of the enforced furlough of federal employees.

The tuna/dolphin issue we reported on in the last issue of "Whales Alive!" continues to be one of the most contentious issues before this Congress. As we go to press, there are two opposing bills currently out in the Senate (S1420 introduced by Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, and S1460 introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer of California), and the disastrous Cunningham Bill that had been issued in the House of Representatives this past summer has been joined by HR1855 put forth by Rep. Gilcrest. HR1855 and S1420 are virtually identical in language.

Thanks to all of the debate in Congress over the budget issues, however, it has been impossible to schedule hearings on the issue. The tuna/dolphin issue has been effectively shunted aside for the moment, as the Congress debates the budget, and House leaders propose a vacation from their efforts...

While certain House members debate the possibility of time off for themselves, NMFS employees have been given no choice in the matter. The enforced closure of federal offices has been particularly hard-hitting on Fisheries Service employees. As a result, many issues of deep concern for those involved in whale and dolphin conservation have been put on hold. The Take Reduction Team that was meant to have met to try and discuss potential solutions for the take of the beleaguered harbor porpoise in New England Fisheries has had to be postponed. Employees, eager to help out by volunteering to do work at home, have been told that they cannot. Work on IWC related issues, gray whale issues, and more has been held up as the closure goes on.

NMFS employees face a monumental task. They must try and balance science with conservation and politics, keep track of the 69 species of marine mammals located in U.S. waters as well as thousands of fish species, and oversee the activities of thousands of fishing vessels. They provide scientists and conservationists with information, and help to enforce the nation's laws. This shutdown has kept them from their jobs, and kept the work of government from being done. It has meant that issues of cetacean protection have been put aside.

CSI asks its members to take time out and recognize the often thankless work of National Marine Fisheries Service employees. Their livelihood has been put on hold during the budget talks. They are often our best allies in our fight to save whales and dolphins, and they deserve better treatment than they have received this past month.


Go to next article: ATOC Project Delayed (temporarily) by Dead Whales or: Table of Contents.

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