May 13, 2013
Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources
Alaska Region NMFS
Attn: Ellen Sebastian
P.O. Box 21668
Juneau, AK 99802
Dear Mr. Kurland:
The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. (RDC) is writing to comment on the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) for the Alaska harbor seal.
RDC is a statewide, non-profit, membership-funded organization founded in 1975. The RDC membership is comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, timber, tourism, and fisheries industries, as well as Alaska Native corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to link these diverse interests together to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.
The Alaska harbor seal is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and RDC believes additional protections are unnecessary. Furthermore, mitigation measures are already in place to protect harbor seals from the effects of vessel activity in glacial habitats.
The MMPA protects the harbor seal from harassment, including protection from impact to the seal’s migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering. NMFS’ ANPR indicates the seals need protection from disturbances while the MMPA already prohibits disturbances.
For example, mitigation measures are in place in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, where cruise ship approaches to seals are regulated by the U.S. National Park Service. Adding an additional layer of bureaucracy is unnecessary. Additional regulations may impact tourism and nature viewing activities, from cruise ships to zodiacs to kayaks, with no evidence demonstrating that vessel traffic is impacting the harbor seal.
Any additional measures to protect harbor seals from the effects of vessel activity in glacial habitats will likely impact the visitor industry, with little to no added benefit to the harbor seal.
Given the comments in the ANPR, RDC is concerned NMFS is setting the groundwork for new restrictions in glacial fjords before hearing from Alaskans and other stakeholders. Depending on the type of restrictions, there could be a substantial impact upon many tourism businesses and Alaskans across the state.
Should NMFS’ findings lead to development of additional, yet unnecessary, regulation of the harbor seal, RDC urges NMFS to develop measures that minimize impacts to ocean users, and work with these users going forward on this important issue.
Thank you for your consideration of our comments.
Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.