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Final EIS published for dolphin swimming ban

Approaching and swimming with Hawaiian spinner dolphins is one step closer to being prohibited in Hawaii’s coastal waters.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has published a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) that proposes a 50-yard barrier around Hawaiian spinner dolphins. In the proposed rule, swimmers and motorized, self-propelled, manned and unmanned vessels on, above and below the surface of the water are all prohibited from approaching or leapfrogging (placing a vessel or person in the path of an oncoming spinner dolphin) a Hawaiian spinner dolphin. If approved, the rule will be in effect in all waters within 2 nautical miles of shore, including the waters bounded by Maui, Lanai and Kahoolawe.

“In recent years these dolphins face intense pressure from increasing dolphin-viewing activities,” NOAA Fisheries stated in an online Q&A. “Surrounded by people and vessels throughout the day, the dolphins resting and recuperation can be disrupted.”

Published July 30, the FEIS marks the latest step in a process that’s been in the works on the federal level for more than a decade. The rule was first officially proposed in August 2016 by the Pacific Islands Regional Office of NOAA.

After Aug. 30, NOAA Fisheries can make a final agency decision and publish a Record of Decision. If approved, a final rule will typically go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

The proposal has gained recent support from both the Hawaii County Council, who unanimously passed a resolution on July 21 urging NOAA to ratify the rule, and Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“Hawaiian spinner dolphins hold great significance ecologically, culturally, socially, and economically throughout Hawaii. The Department recognizes the importance of protecting Hawaiian spinner dolphins from harassment and disturbance associated with human activities,” BLNR Chairperson Suzanne Case said in a letter of support published with the FEIS. “… DLNR supports NOAA’s efforts to pursue regulatory action to increase protection of Hawaiian spinner dolphins from harassment and disturbance.”

The proposed rule helps to clarify the definition of harassment of Hawaiian spinner dolphins under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Violators of the MMPA face penalties up to an $11,000 fine, one year in prison and forfeiture of any vessel involved.

The rule does allow for several exceptions, including when dolphins approach swimmers or vessels and when a 50-yard distance doesn’t allow a vessel to maintain safe navigation.

Anyone reporting harassment or marine mammal emergencies is encouraged to call the Hawaii Marine Animal Response hotline at (888) 256-9840.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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