The Honorable Penny Pritzker
Secretary of Commerce
United States Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20230
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries
NOAA Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Springs, MD 20910
RE: NOAA-NMFS-2015-0035; Endangered and Threatened Species; Identification of 14 Distinct Population Segments of the Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and Proposed Revision of Species-wide Listing.
Honorable Secretary Pritzker and Ms. Sobeck,
As Chair of the Resources Committee in the Alaska Senate, I take seriously our obligation to maximize our state’s resources for the maximum benefit of the people. That principle applies not only to extracting or harvesting finite and renewable resources; the health of our maritime ecosystems is a legacy future generation of Alaskans must have as their inheritance. It is from that standpoint that I commend the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Fisheries’ (NOAA Fisheries) proposal today on both identifying distinct populations of the humpback whale, as well as delisting ten of those populations from the Endangered Species List.
The State of Alaska has contributed to the public discourse and shaping of proposals such as this through our in-house expertise in the various public agencies. Our Department of Fish & Game, for example, sent a lengthy, thoroughly researched petition to Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker last February, requesting the same proposal that NOAA Fisheries has announced today. Then Director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, Doug Vincent-Lang, made a compelling case for the uniqueness of the Central North Pacific Population of the humpback whale. Mr. Vincent-Lang assessed the ecology, structure, genetics, and ranges of this Distinct Population Segment (DPS), and produced conclusions that today’s proposal has validated. This rigorous analytical process is an example of how Alaska will continue to study, and contribute to the robustness of our wildlife for the benefit of all Americans.
This proposal would continue the trajectory of population rehabilitation set forward in the final recovery plan for the humpback whale in 1991. At that time, the commercial whaling of humpbacks contributed significantly to the existential threat the species was under. Since then, the Central North Pacific humpback population has grown by an average of 5-7% annually, according to data from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Given that there appears to be little probability of
a return to commercial whaling, I feel assured that this growth in population would not be impacted from being removed on the Endangered Species List.
More importantly, by more accurately categorizing the humpback whale species into distinct population segments, precious resources can be marshalled and directed to those segments whose health are on the margin. Moneys and man hours spent on a threatened or endangered population segment is exponentially more valuable than spent on a healthy one. For all the success that Alaskans have seen in its humpback whales returning from the brink, there is little time to
celebrate as at least two other segments appear to be endangered, with another two threatened. Thank you for taking my comments as well as your service to our country.
Senator Cathy Giessel
Chair, Resources Committee
CC: The Honorable Bill Walker, Governor, State of Alaska; The Honorable Sam Cotten, Commissioner, Alaska
Department of Fish and Game