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Conservation group announces intent to sue feds, blames Bering Sea trawlers for orca deaths

Orcas spotted in the Bering Sea in August 2023.
Courtesy of Dustin Unignax̂ Newman
Orcas spotted in the Bering Sea in August 2023.

A conservation group is preparing to sue NOAA Fisheries for allegedly failing to protect killer whales from trawlers in the Bering Sea.

The trawl fleet in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands has come under fire in recent weeks. The backlash follows a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that said 10 orcas were hauled up in trawl nets over the last year, nine of which died.

The Center for Biological Diversity said in a Monday statement that NOAA Fisheries needs to uphold its duty to protect the killer whales, which are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The national conservation group said the trawlers are catching lots of non-targeted species, or bycatch, in defiance of conservation laws.

It’s not a new issue for orcas to get caught up in fishing gear, but the recent numbers are a jump up from previous years. The trawl fishery association Groundfish Forum said their boats have reported a recent uptick in orca encounters. Climate change may play a role in the increased sightings, as many ocean species adapt to new conditions.

The conservation group announced they would file a lawsuit if NOAA Fisheries did not adequately address the allegations within 60 days.

Theo Greenly reports from the Aleutians as a Report for America corps member. He got his start in public radio at KCRW in Santa Monica, California, and has produced radio stories and podcasts for stations around the country.
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