The National Marine Fisheries Service approved a plan today to allow the Hawaii-based shallow-set longline fishery to capture and kill more endangered sea turtles when targeting swordfish on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean. Current regulations allow the fishery to take, each year, 16 endangered leatherback sea turtles and 17 endangered loggerhead sea turtles. The fishery is closed if either of these take limits is reached. Today’s final rule approves a 62 percent increase in the allowable take of leatherback sea turtles to 26 per year, and a 100 percent increase in the allowable take of loggerhead sea turtles, up to 34 per year.
“This decision is outrageous”, says Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana. “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.”
The leatherback sea turtles captured by the Hawaii-based swordfish fishery are from the same western Pacific population that migrates from nesting beaches in Indonesia to protected foraging grounds off the U.S. West Coast. Earlier this year the Fisheries Service designated nearly 42,000 square miles of critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles in ocean waters off California, Oregon and Washington. In September 2011 they upgraded the status of Pacific loggerhead sea turtles from threatened to endangered, meaning that they are at higher risk of going extinct than previously thought.
“Our goal is to protect these endangered turtles everywhere they go throughout their life cycle – from nesting beaches, across migratory routes, and at their feeding grounds,” says Geoff Shester, California Program Director for Oceana. “The government’s theory that killing more turtles here will save turtles elsewhere is simply absurd.”
Increasing the allowable takes of sea turtles will mean more fishing effort which will result in not only more dead turtles, but also whales, dolphins and seabirds, plus sharks, tunas and other fish that are also taken as bycatch in this fishery. Agency analyses predict nearly 1.3 million pounds of fish will be discarded dead and dying as a result, including tunas, marlin, blue sharks, mako sharks, white sharks and others. Oceana is evaluating all options to stop these measures before they take effect on November 5, 2012.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 550,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.