A recent lawsuit prompted the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on July 17 to propose 36 ocean areas as critical habitat for threatened loggerhead sea turtles along the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. The lawsuit, jointly filed by Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, came five years after environmental groups petitioned the government to strengthen protections for loggerhead populations, and 35 years after loggerheads were first listed under the Endangered Species Act, at which time the government was required to designate critical habitat by law. This prolonged delay impelled environmental organizations to take legal action to ensure that the threats these sea turtles face are minimized.
Last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released its annual report detailing progress toward ending overfishing and recovering overfished stocks. Each year, NMFS reports on the number of stocks where overfishing is occurring (mortality is above sustainable levels), the number of stocks that are overfished (populations have not yet recovered from past overfishing), and the number of stocks that are no longer depleted, or are considered “rebuilt.” In 2012, NMFS reported continued progress, which is good news in light of controversial decisions to follow scientific recommendations to further cut quotas of key New England stocks. According to the report, ten stocks are no longer subject to overfishing, including short-fin mako, Caribbean grouper, and Gulf of Mexico red snapper. Additionally, six stocks are now considered “rebuilt,” including southern Tanner crabs, Washington coast Coho salmon, south Atlantic pink shrimp, and southern New England/Mid-Atlantic windowpane and yellowtail flounder.
Amanda Keledjian is a marine scientist at Oceana.
This week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a proposed regulation that would help prevent sea turtle deaths from shrimp fishing by requiring all skimmer trawls operating in the Gulf of Mexico to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs).
Oceana and other concerned organizations welcome this exciting news after having asked NMFS to address ongoing sea turtle mortalities and enforce its own protective regulations that are crucial to the recovery and survival of these threatened and endangered species. Turtle excluder devices have effectively reduced the number of sea turtles that drown as a result of commercial fishing activities each year, and NMFS estimates that this new rule could save more than 5,500 sea turtles!
When properly attached to fishing nets, TEDs act as an escape hatch and allow captured turtles to swim freely away while shrimp accumulate in the net. However, many skimmer trawl boats have been exempt from TED requirements and were instead restricted to towing nets for shorter periods of time. Despite their proven effectiveness, it has taken many years for NMFS to require TEDs in fisheries that are known to harm turtles, with a long history of litigation surrounding this contentious issue.