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NMFS Gives Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles the Hook, Again

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Oceana Calls on Fisheries Service to Stop Fishing When Limits are Reached


March 21, 2007
Washington, DC
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Oceana has learned, as part of an ongoing lawsuit with the National Marine Fisheries Service concerning the protection of sea turtles, that the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery caught approximately 2,100 endangered leatherback sea turtles over the past three years.  This number exceeds the fishery's authorized level of 1,981 by 7.3 to 8.3 percent. Oceana is calling on the Fisheries Service to stop this practice and follow the law.

The 2004 Biological Opinion for the Atlantic longline fishery authorizes 1,981 leatherback sea turtles to be caught in this fishery from 2004 through 2006.  The Fisheries Service is required by its own regulations to prevent this overage, if it knows that the overage might occur.  The Fisheries Service knew that an overage might occur in March 2005, but didn't take any action to prevent it.  It also didn't reveal this information to the public until recently.

"This is just one more example of a fishery exceeding its authorized catch limit of endangered sea turtles and the agency doing nothing about it," said Elizabeth Griffin, Oceana's wildlife scientist. "Oceana first documented this problem in the Net Casualties report released in October, 2006.  The agency is clearly still more interested in fishing interests than in the health of the ocean."

The Fisheries Service claims that the large overage of catches is not jeopardizing sea turtles because the post-release mortality rate of these turtles is relatively low (17.7 percent).  However, this post-release mortality rate is based on only what occurs on the observed fishing trips, which are approximately eight percent of all trips.  In the other trips, the fishermen are likely less diligent about gear removal prior to release and therefore mortality rates are likely higher. 

Oceana calls on the Fisheries Service to use the adaptive management system that it claims to have in place.  It must follow the example of the Hawaii longline fishery, a similar fishery with a far superior management regime.

"The fishery must have 100 percent observer coverage," said Griffin.  "This is the only way to get accurate information on the catch numbers and release state of sea turtles in this fishery.  The agency must also make the observer program data and fisheries effort data publicly available in near real time so that the public can ensure that the fishery is shut down when the limits are reached."

Observers are trained scientists who live on-board fishing boats and track the number of sea turtles (and other bycatch) caught and their condition so fishery managers have the necessary data to meet the Endangered Species Act and effectively protect ocean habitat and marine wildlife.

Contact: Bianca DeLille (202) 904-9046 (cell)

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Oceana campaigns to protect and restore the world's oceans. Our teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life. Global in scope and dedicated to conservation, Oceana has campaigners based in North America (Washington, DC; Juneau, AK; Los Angeles, CA), Europe (Madrid, Spain; Brussels, Belgium) and South America (Santiago, Chile).  More than 300,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries have already joined Oceana. For more information, please visit http://www.oceana.org/.