Known for their mallet-shaped heads, hammerhead sharks are one of the most easily recognized—and favored—shark species. Their “hammers” give them a widened-view to scan for food, and they have enhanced sensory organs that can detect electrical fields from their prey. If that doesn’t make hammerheads cool enough, they can grow to incredible sizes—reaching 20 feet in length and weighing up to 1,000 pounds.
It's rare that the issues of longline fishing and bycatch make it to the evening news, but this report from CNN highlights a promising technology called buoy gear fishing that could replace the extremely destructive practice of longline fishing for swordfish. As you might guess, traditional longlines are long--miles-long, and sometimes set with thousands of baited hooks that catch everything from swordfish (both adult and juveniles) to endangered sea turtles, marine mammals, sawfish and sharks. Swordfishing in the Florida Straits, a major nursery area for baby fish, became very popular in the late 1960s. However, by the 1990s, swordfish populations had collapsed, with longlining banned in the area by 2011.
This video tracks Florida fisherman Tim Palmer's switch from longlines to buoy gear. Instead of thousands of hooks, Palmer sets only 12 at a time, which can be actively monitored for juvenile fish or protected species that might take the bait instead of the intended adult swordfish. If and when fishermen notice that this has happened, they can respond more quickly and minimize the potential injury of the hooked animal.
Despite recent successes with this new gear, the movement away from destructive longline fishing is not universal or even well-accepted by all fishermen. In the Pacific, federal regulators recently approved new rules, set to take effect November 5, that will allow longline fishermen targeting swordfish and tuna to incidentally catch almost twice the number of endangered leatherbacks and loggerheads that they entangle each year.
Oceana is fighting to prevent these new rules from going into effect and is pushing for responsible fishing practices that reduce bycatch around the world.
After a victory for Pacific sea turtles last week, here’s some not so good news.
Two endangered species of sea turtle are facing an increased threat after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved a plan allowing a Hawaii-based shallow-set longline swordfish fishery to catch more endangered sea turtles while hunting for swordfish in the North Pacific Ocean.
Currently, regulations allow a capture, or “take,” of 16 endangered leatherback sea turtles and 17 endangered loggerhead sea turtles per fishery per year. If and when turtle catch limits are reached, the fishery must close for the year. However, the new rule, set to take effect November 5, will allow a 62 percent increase in allowable takes of leatherbacks for a total of 26 per year, and a 100 percent increase in the catch of loggerheads for a total of 34 per year.
The timing for this approval is particularly paradoxical, as NMFS upgraded the status of the Pacific loggerhead sea turtle from “threatened” to “endangered” little more than a year ago, and designated almost 42,000 square miles of ocean waters off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles earlier this year. The leatherback sea turtle was also recently designated as the official state marine reptile of California.
Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana, said:
“This decision is outrageous. On the one hand the federal government acknowledges Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles are endangered and that more needs to be done to protect them. At the same time they say it is okay for U.S. fishermen to kill more of them.”
We agree, it’s outrageous – and our campaigners are examining the available options in a plan to stop these measures before they take effect on November 5. We’ll keep you posted!