July 25, 2002
Dear Mr. Hankla,
As we have discussed this matter many times personally, you should be aware that it is the official position of Standing Watch, Inc. that the draft rules for the incidental take on manatees is an obvious mis-application of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. We do not support, in any way, shape, or form, establishing an "allowable take" of animals under this rule-making section.
The "incidental take" criteria was never meant to be applied to recreational activities. As it is being used with the manatee, the "incidental take" will most certainly be achieved each calendar year as the animals continue to expand their range, and the population numbers continue to increase. Though the Service, and the so-called "environmental coalition", refuse to admit that the manatee population has increased dramatically over the last two decades, the numbers from the FMRI necropsy lab - as well as the minimum observed population of 3,276 animals counted in January of 2001 - should serve as documented evidence that this is a fact.
With more animals on the water, and more boats in the water, it is logical to assume that mortality issues will continue to be a concern for all of us. But to establish a threshold that, when reached, allows some as-yet-to-be-announced punishment for the boaters of the State seems more politically driven that it is based in science and sound management practices.
There are still many unanswered questions with this rule-making initiative. Most obvious to us is, "considering the fact that 'harassment,' 'wounding,' 'harming,' etc, are seen as a 'take,' who is to decide what is and is not a 'take.' or is a 'take,' under this rule, only counted as an animal that has been killed?" Secondly, "what will happen if this 'take' threshold is reached?"
It is our belief that this initiative is being pushed by Save the Manatee Club under the threat of their lawsuit settlement agreement, and is a program that is designed to fail - heaping more and more regulatory layers on our State-wide membership without due diligence by your biological staff members, or your law enforcement department.
Before this rule is promoted further, Standing Watch would urge you to apply already existing portions of the MMPA to altering migratory behavior, and the creation of "attractants" (warm water outfalls) that are certainly not good for the long-term outlook of the manatee.
It is our position that you should withdraw this rule process immediately.
P.O. Box 296, Estero, FL 33928 E-mail
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