Legislators Introduce New Bill Mandating Heavy Oversight of Sonar Testing to Prevent Further Whale Deaths

June 1, 2023


Union Beach, N.J. – Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger and Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn (Monmouth – R’s) have introduced new legislation (A5566) which seeks to regulate the use of acoustic sonar surveying and subsequently pause current testing while a new permitting structure is developed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) which would offer greater protection of marine life off the Jersey Shore.

The bill by the 13th District Legislators comes as reports of another deceased humpback whale in the Raritan Bay have been confirmed, adding to the unprecedented and growing death toll of marine mammals along New Jersey’s coast since December of 2022:

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photos and carcasses of marine mammals all along the Jersey Coastline would be enough to fill an encyclopedia,” said Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger. “We already have been calling for an immediate halt of sonar testing, but since that has fallen on deaf ears, we are moving to the next step and seeking to make NJDEP more accountable in the process that they’ve fumbled since the onset of this “green” initiative by the President and Governor.”

“It is unmistakably clear; the controversy surrounding these whale and dolphin deaths would have been avoided if the State had initially done its due diligence in researching the impact of sonar technology on marine mammals and not haphazardly ceding the future of New Jersey’s ecosystems to the whims of the federal government,” stated Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn. “Since the State and NJDEP have failed in their obligation to ensure our environment is protected, we are going back to the drawing board and strictly mandating their regulatory processes to implement a change of course. When our legislation is passed, it will offer peace of mind to residents who want to know that the beaches and oceans they love and rely on for tourism dollars are being safeguarded from unwarranted harm.”

Within the legislation, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection would need to create a new, in-depth permitting process and monitoring system before any sonar or seismic surveying is allowed to take place. Further, NJDEP would have the authority to immediately suspend a sonar testing permit if a marine mammal is found injured or deceased, and the cause of injury or death is potentially related to the use of sonar testing.

NJDEP would also be compelled to investigate the cause of any marine mammal injury or death and determine if the use of sonar testing by the permittee contributed.  Any sonar testing would remain suspended until an investigation is conducted, and conclusions published:

“The power should be restored to the NJDEP as well as return oversight to municipalities which was egregiously taken in 2021 while everyone was concerned with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Scharfenberger continued. “In a ‘Home-Rule’ state, where residents pay the highest property taxes in the nation, the right for municipalities to decide their own development destiny is paramount.  Local planning boards should be the arbiters of any permits having to do with development or infrastructure in a given municipality.”

“Listen, I am a proponent of exploring alternative and green energy sources, but not at the risk of our oceans and marine life. Every time a whale or dolphin is located deceased off our shorelines, we receive countless demands by concerned residents for legislative actions. This is not a partisan issue. This is an environmental issue that I think all who love our Jersey Shore can support,” commented Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn. “I think it is reasonable to temporarily pause acoustic sonar testing occurring off our shorelines for wind turbine projects until an independent investigation is undertaken to prove there is no direct or indirect correlation between testing and marine mammal deaths. I also think it is reasonable to give the State greater control over what occurs off our shorelines. The bills Gerry and I proposed are responsive to the concerns of our residents. I do not think it is wise for government leaders to continue to ignore the calls by our residents to protect our shores, our environment, and marine life. We are not going to relent until their voices are heard and concerns eased.”