Federal scientists at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the scientific arm of the National Marine Fisheries Service, have increased by nearly 600 percent the official estimate of the number of loggerhead sea turtles caught, injured or killed by the commercial Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery in 2003.
In February, the Fisheries Service, the federal agency charged with managing fisheries, estimated the total number of loggerhead interactions, or “takes,” by the scallop fishery to be about 110. But the new report by the agency’s own scientists, released Sept. 1, raises that number to about 630, an increase of nearly 600 percent.
The new report also finds that the estimated 630 takes occurred in mid-Atlantic waters stretching from New Jersey to North Carolina between July and November – when loggerhead sea turtles migrate to and from summer feeding grounds. Loggerhead sea turtles are considered threatened, and are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“This study confirms that the Fisheries Service dramatically underestimated the number of loggerhead sea turtles injured and killed each year by the sea scallop fishery,” said Charlotte Hudson, marine wildlife scientist for Oceana. “Right now we are entering the months when the most loggerhead sea turtle are accidentally captured. If nothing is done to protect them, the scallop dredge fishery will continue to needlessly kill these threatened sea turtles.”
In July, leading sea turtle scientists reported major declines in the number of loggerhead sea turtles nesting on beaches along the East Coast – to levels about half of past years.
Oceana has filed a lawsuit against the Fisheries Service challenging past estimates and present regulations governing the scallop fishery. Oceana charges that these regulations fail to take necessary precautions to protect loggerhead and other sea turtles from being caught and killed in scallop dredges during the summer months in the mid-Atlantic. All species of sea turtles that swim in U.S. waters are endangered or threatened.
“The implications of this report are stunning,” says Chris Zeman, program counsel for Oceana. “More than 70% of all turtle interactions result in injury or death, so this places the second most valuable Northeast fishery in the embarrassing position of being a leading cause of injury and death to the loggerhead sea turtle – a species already threatened with extinction.”
The latest official report can be found at