Fishing gear should be killing fewer sea turtles, not more – and today we filed a complaint with the government saying just that.
Oceana’s complaint is in response to the U.S. government’s decision in October 2010 to allow eight East Coast fisheries to harm 14 times more threatened loggerhead sea turtles – raising the limit from 42 to 610.
Oceana is disputing the U.S. government’s decision to allow these fisheries to injure and kill more loggerhead sea turtles without adequately assessing the aggregate impacts of the fisheries on this species. The fisheries harm leatherback, Kemp’s ridley, and green sea turtles as well, and those species also would benefit from proper assessments of the fisheries’ impacts.
Oceana’s complaint addresses eight federal fisheries, including those for monkfish and for summer flounder, scup and black sea bass, which are responsible for the highest levels of sea turtle bycatch in the region.
Oceana is calling on the U.S. to implement simple solutions to protect and restore sea turtle populations in the Atlantic, including turtle escape hatches in trawls, adopting adequate monitoring of fisheries that catch sea turtles, capping the allowable catch of sea turtles and where necessary, closing areas for fishing when and where sea turtles are present.
Starting today, we’ll be doing a weekly trivia feature of one of the fascinating species that lives in the oceans. Today’s animal is the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.
Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest and most endangered species of sea turtle. These turtles are usually solitary and live primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, sometimes venturing up the Eastern Seaboard.
The relatively small range of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is one of the reasons its population has been declining. When population concentrations are high enough, females come onshore to lay their eggs arrive together in mass landings (the name of these landings is our weekly trivia question on Twitter, so answer now to win!) Eggs and hatchlings make easy prey for dogs, herons, and humans—and some cultures believe sea turtle eggs are aphrodisiacs.
Adult sea turtles are particularly at risk of drowning after being accidentally caught in the nets of shrimp trawlers and other fishermen. Adding turtle excluder devices to nets allow turtles to escape and have made a difference in turtle bycatch deaths, although these rates are still high. Oceana’s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch, protecting habitat, and promoting legislation that keeps turtles safe.
This is part of a series of ocean infographics by artist Don Foley. These infographics also appear in Oceana board member Ted Danson’s book, “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”
Bottom trawls, enormous fishing nets that are dragged across the sea floor, clear-cut everything living in their path. The mouths of the largest nets are big enough to swallow a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, and trawls and dredges can destroy century-old coral reefs in mere moments.
How Extensive is the Damage? (Fig. A)
• The largest deep-sea bottom trawling ships—“supertrawlers” —are 450 feet or longer (the length of 1.5 football fields).
• A large trawler can drag over a half-acre swath of seabed with one pass.
• High-seas bottom trawlers destroy 580 square miles of seabed each day.
• Each year, the world’s fleet of bottom trawlers disturbs a seabed area twice the size of the contiguous United States.
• Deep-sea trawling destroys seabed habitat at a faster rate than the aggregate loss of the world’s tropical rain forests.
• European scientists have calculated that bottom-dragging trawlers in the North Sea destroy 16 pounds of marine animals for every pound of marketable sole that is caught.
Trawler Doors (Fig. B)
Heavy doors keep the mouth of the net open and on the seafloor. Rubber and steel rockhoppers roll across the seafloor, while floats lift open the net above them.
Since a lot of what happens in the oceans is hidden from view, the issues we discuss here on the blog can often be abstract and hard to visualize.
That’s why starting today, I’ll be featuring an ocean infographic by artist Don Foley each week. These infographics also appear in Oceana board member Ted Danson’s book, “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”
I thought I’d start with one of the most mysterious players in the ocean: fishing gear. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never actually seen any of these in real life (have you?), so I find this infographic quite helpful:
Dredges catch scallops and fish by dragging across the seafloor. They can crush corals, catch sea turtles, and disturb all kinds of seafloor life.
Purse seine nets catch schooling fish like tuna by encircling the school with a wall of netting. They can capture dolphins and other natural predators feeding on the school.
Trawl nets catch shrimp, cod, haddock, and other fish. Bottom trawls drag weighted nets across the seafloor, crushing corals or any other marine life in their path. Bottom trawls also discard more unwanted fish than almost any other form of fishing and are extremely destructive. Midwater trawls drag large nets through the water to catch pollock and other schooling fish, and when their nets are full, they may also drag on the bottom.
Gillnets are one of the most widely used methods in the world for catching salmon and sharks. When not closely tended, gillnets can entangle and drown sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals. Some gillnets also snag large numbers of juvenile fish, which contributes to overfishing.
Read more about fishing weaponry and see a larger version of this infographic, and come back next week to ogle more ocean visuals!
Great news for the oceans: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled in favor of Oceana in a suit that will require commercial fisheries from North Carolina to the Canadian border to monitor and report the amount of bycatch, or untargeted marine life, they discard.
This victory may seem like a small step, but it is a triumph against one of the biggest problems facing our oceans today. Bycatch is a major player in the destruction of marine ecosystems, and occurs when fishing gear indiscriminately traps marine life in nets, trawls, and fishing lines.
Tons of fish are wasted and thousands of marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks and sea birds are injured or killed every year as bycatch. While the new law does not place limits on bycatch, it represents a crucial and long-awaited step in increasing the transparency in commercial fishing.
“For more than 15 years NMFS has violated the law, managing America’s fisheries without reliable information about how much fish and other marine wildlife is being shoveled over the side of boats, often dead or dying,” said Gilbert Brogan, northeast representative for Oceana. “This ruling is a significant step towards improving the management of U.S. fisheries in the Atlantic.”
Congratulations to everyone who helped win this victory for more abundant oceans!
For millions of years, sea turtles have been a vital part of ocean ecosystems – but today they are on the brink of extinction as a result of irresponsible fishing and habitat destruction, among other threats. We’re working our hardest to save them, but we need your support.
All six sea turtle species that swim in US waters threatened or endangered, but it’s not too late to save them. Donate today and join Oceana in the fight to protect sea turtles and restore ocean balance. With your donation, we will continue pushing for stronger fishing regulations and legislation that will help protect and sustain turtle populations for years to come.
Our goal is to raise $40,000, and we still have a long way to go. Please donate today to help us in the fight to save sea turtles from extinction. And if you’ve already given, thank you -- now pass the word on via Facebook, Twitter, and however else you can!
The Latest NYT “Scientist at Work” blog follows a sea turtle researcher, Lekelia “Kiki” Jenkins, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, as she travels to Ecuador to study factors in the cross-cultural adoption of sea turtle conservation technologies like turtle excluder devices and circle hooks.
Here’s an excerpt from her first post, including a great explanation of how circle hooks help sea turtles, and why turtles are like 40-year-old virgins:
“Some scientists estimate that a quarter of a million sea turtles are ensnared in fishing lines each year. This is truly a problem for sea turtles, which are the “40-year-old virgins” of the oceans. Turtles have a life span similar to humans, but might not start having young until they are several decades old. Dehookers and circle hooks are part of a suite of solutions that help longline fishers protect sea turtles, allowing them to mature and bear young while helping fishers continue to catch profitable tuna, swordfish and mahi-mahi.
All six species of sea turtles in U.S. waters are threatened with extinction -- and we want to know why more isn’t being done to protect them. The U.S. government wants to charge us an arm and a leg for more information about it. So we filed a lawsuit.
Last March, Oceana submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) asking for records relating to trawl gear modifications intended to prevent sea turtle bycatch in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. (The government has still not acted to modify trawl gear to protect sea turtles on much of the East Coast.) In response, NOAA asked Oceana to pay more than $16,000 for the documents.
Fun stuff for you today, dear readers! Remember the videos actress Kate Walsh made with us last year about protecting sea turtles?
Well, we have a new batch out today, this time featuring Angela Kinsey, the hilarious ice queen on “The Office” and Rachael Harris from “My Boys” and “The Hangover”. And needless to say, we think they are pretty clever:
Last spring the two comedians joined Oceana on a trip to Mexico to learn about and swim with green and loggerhead sea turtles at the Centro Ecológico Akumal and Xcaret Ecological Park.
Warning: what follows isn’t exactly light reading.
The New York Times reported yesterday on the complicated task of performing necropsies -- i.e., animal autopsies -- on sea turtles and other creatures that have been found dead in the Gulf of Mexico since the spill started.
It’s not easy to determine the cause of death of these creatures. Of the 1,978 birds, 463 turtles and 59 marine mammals found dead in the Gulf since April 20th, few show visible signs of oil contamination.
And in the case of sea turtles, a more familiar culprit may be at fault: shrimp trawls and other commercial fishing gear that scoop up turtles as bycatch and prevent them from going to the surface to breathe.
Here’s a simplified breakdown of how the veterinary investigators begin to determine the cause of death: