The New England Fisheries Management Council today voted to close the sea turtle migration path off the Maryland coast that crosses the Elephant Trunk scallop fishing ground to commercial scallop dredgers for two months, a decision that will injure or kill hundreds of threatened and endangered sea turtles in underwater collisions with two-ton commercial dredges.
Oceana has been working for several years to enact time-and-area closures in this and other scallop fishing areas to reduce the number of sea turtles from being harmed and killed during their centuries-old summer migration through the Mid-Atlantic ocean.
“The two-month closure of the Elephant Trunk area to scallop dredging does far more to protect the public image of the scallop fleet than it does to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles,” said David Allison, director of Oceana’s Stop Destructive Trawling campaign.
The government reports that hundreds of threatened loggerhead sea turtles are harmed and killed by commercial sea scallop dredges, which often span 15 feet, weigh more than two tons and move through the water at speeds of four to five knots per hour. The slow-moving sea turtles often can’t get out of the way in time and are knocked and dragged by the massive steel dredges.
“While any time-and-area closure may be helpful to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles, a two-month closure really means that scallopers can still fish in the area during the summer when the sea turtles are migrating,” said Chris Zeman, Oceana’s Northeast Fisheries Program Counsel. “So this two-month closure is just window-dressing on the part of the council and offers no real protection to these endangered creatures.”
Loggerhead turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act and it is the responsibility of the National Marine Fisheries Service to regulate commercial fishing and overseeing the effect that industrial fishing practices have on sea life. It is up the fishery management councils to include measures in fishery management plans that reduce the number of loggerhead sea turtles harmed and killed by scallop dredges.
“People should be prepared to confront the reality that hundreds of sea turtles will continue to die in scallop dredges and that the government refuses to protect them,” said Allison.