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Governor Opposes Critical Habitat Designation for Belugas

December 1, 2009, Ketchikan, Alaska – Governor Sean Parnell strongly objects to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s proposal to designate more than one-third of Cook Inlet as critical habitat for beluga whales.

“Listing more than 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet as critical habitat would do little to help grow the beluga population, but it would devastate economic opportunities in the region,” Governor Parnell said. “The beluga whale population has been coexisting with industry for years. The main threat facing belugas was over-harvest, which is now regulated under a cooperative harvest management plan. Belugas are also protected under the Marine Mammal Act.”

The proposal designates a total of 3,016 square miles, including all upper portions of Cook Inlet, where whales concentrate in summer months; mid-Cook Inlet; the entire western shore of lower Cook Inlet; and KachemakBay on the eastern side of the lower inlet.

In addition, four species of Pacific salmon (Chinook, sockeye, coho and chum) are listed as essential elements of the proposed critical habitat. This could lead to federal involvement in salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet. 

“We are concerned about the effect this could have on commercial, recreational, and personal use fishing opportunities throughout the Cook Inlet fisheries,” said Doug Vincent-Lang of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The state will review and submit comments on the proposal and will closely examine the extent of the proposed critical habitat. NOAA has the discretion to exclude areas of military or economic importance, as long as doing so does not jeopardize the continued existence of the species. The state is also reviewing all legal options regarding the listing and the proposed critical habitat designation.

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