A federal judge in Massachusetts ruled that the government must protect endangered and threatened sea turtles by banning pelagic longline fishing gear from a large area in the North Atlantic. In a written opinion filed on September 30, Judge Nancy Gertner of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts upheld the government's conclusion that pelagic longline fishing will jeopardize the continued existence of leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, and affirmed the government's actions taken under the Endangered Species Act to protect these threatened and endangered species.
Each year, thousands of sea turtles are caught accidentally in Atlantic pelagic longlines - fishing lines up to sixty miles long with thousands of hooks targeting species such as swordfish and tuna. In June 2001, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) determined that these fishing practices threatened the existence of Atlantic loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles. The agency concluded that approximately 10 vessels were responsible for 75% of the loggerhead and 40% of the leatherback sea turtle caught as bycatch in the entire U.S. Atlantic longline fleet. To protect these threatened and endangered species, NMFS closed the area where the bycatch concentration was the greatest. This closed area encompasses 2.6 million nautical square miles and covers the Grand Banks, off the coast of New England.
A fishing industry trade association challenged the decision of the National Marine Fisheries Service to close the area to pelagic longline fishing. Oceana, on behalf of its clients, Turtle Island Restoration Network and Center for Biological Diversity, intervened in the case and support the government's action. The court ruled in favor of the government and upheld the closure.
“This decision means that a small number of fishing vessels cannot imperil endangered and threatened sea turtles by catching and killing them while pursuing swordfish in this closed area,” said Sylvia Liu, Senior Attorney at Oceana.
“Sea turtles face many threats around the world, and bycatch by pelagic longliners is one of the most significant,” stated Todd Steiner, Director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We don't want to see other sea turtles face the same situation as leatherback sea turtles in the Pacific, which are on the verge of extinction.”
“We're very pleased that the court agreed that all activities that kill sea turtles must be modified to protect these imperiled species,” commented Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need to address all of the threats that sea turtles face, not permit one menace to excuse another.”
Citizens have expressed outrage over the practice of discarding non-targeted marine mammals, birds, sea turtles, and large numbers of fish, injured, dead and dying, during massive scale fishing operations. This summer, more than 110,000 Americans supported Oceana's petition demanding that NMFS implement a program to count, cap, and control wasted catch, the largest number of people ever to comment formally on an ocean related issue.
Oceana is an international environmental organization created for the sole purpose of protecting the world's oceans to sustain the circle of life. In May 2002, Oceana merged with the American Oceans Campaign to bring together dedicated people from around the world to build an international movement to save the oceans through advocacy, science, economics, legal action, grassroots mobilization, and public education. For more information, visit www.oceana.org.
The Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) has worked since 1989 to protect and restore endangered sea turtles and marine biodiversity worldwide by integrating the ecological needs of marine species and the economic needs of local communities that depend on the marine environment. TIRN is based in Marin County, California and has offices in San Jose, Costa Rica and Houston, Texas. www.seaturtles.org
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, protection, and restoration of biodiversity, native species, ecosystems, and public lands in North America and the world's oceans through science, education, policy and litigation. www.biologicaldiversity.org