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!
Bycatch is a word that is thrown around a lot in the fishing industry, but when a trawler is throwing away half the fish it catches, somehow “bycatch” doesn’t seem to adequately capture the scope of the problem. It’s that sort of scale of waste that is described in a troubling new report by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The report claims that 156 million pounds of fish were discarded by fishing ships in the Northeast last year.
“156 million pounds of bycatch in the Northeast equals jobs lost and meals wasted,” said Gib Brogan, Northeast representative at Oceana. “What is bycatch to one fishery is often targeted catch to another. Take skates for example, which are a common bycatch species in the lucrative scallop fishery. Nearly 75 percent of the 101 million pounds of skates that were caught were discarded while New England skate fishermen struggle to increase their quotas.”
Amazingly, the NMFS report also found that no information is being collected about bycatch in more than half of the fishing fleets from North Carolina to Maine.
And fishermen are often the first to feel the effects of these reckless practices. Last week the fisheries of the Northeast U.S. were declared a disaster by the federal government and crashes in the region’s storied cod, haddock and flounder fisheries have led regulators to impose drastic cuts for 2013. What got us here? Insufficient data about bycatch which led to inaccurate fish stock assessments. While regulators waited for the fisheries to rebuild, the silent and unaccounted for catch of millions of pounds of discarded fish had been gutting stocks to unsustainable levels.
Oceana works tirelessly advocating for the reduction of bycatch. Only by counting every fish, and by setting catch limits at sustainable levels can we ensure the future of our fisheries.
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!