Today Oceana and The Ocean Conservancy urge the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries to require the use of large (18/0) circle hooks to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles in the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery, which stretches from New England through the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA Fisheries' research shows replacing commonly used 'J' hooks with large circle hooks significantly reduces the capture, injury and death of endangered sea turtles while still allowing longline fishermen to successfully target and catch fish.
NOAA issued a proposed rule in February 2004 that required large 18/0 hooks throughout the Atlantic fishery, but recently reversed course by stating that they will allow the use of smaller 16/0 circle hooks. The proposed rule was based on NOAA's three-year scientific study to determine if changes in fishing gear would reduce the accidental catch, or bycatch, of sea turtles. The results of that experiment showed that 18/0 circle hooks reduced sea turtle bycatch by 65-90 percent.
"I'm appalled that NOAA Fisheries is ignoring its own research showing that large circle hooks can substantially reduce the number of sea turtles killed each year and in some cases improve the fishermen's catch," said Charlotte Hudson, marine biologist at Oceana. "NOAA Fisheries has been around the world promoting these experimental results, yet now says the U.S. fishermen in the Atlantic don't have to use them? This is ridiculous, especially when the agency acknowledges that the smaller hooks do not reduce sea turtle catch."
All six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to harm or kill the sea turtles. One of the largest threats to sea turtles is accidental capture, or bycatch, in commercial fishing gear. The longlines used in the Atlantic to catch swordfish, tuna and sharks include thousands of hooks on lines that stretch up to 40 miles long. Sea turtles attracted to longline bait can be hooked on a flipper, entangled in the lines, or captured on a swallowed hook.
"Earlier this year NOAA Fisheries revealed that this fishery has been in violation of the Endangered Species Act since 2001, capturing, injuring and killing thousands of sea turtles since that time," said Marydele Donnelly, sea turtle scientist at The Ocean Conservancy. "The solution is simple -- 18/0 hooks must be required now. Three years of experiments to find a scientific solution -– $500,000. The will to implement those findings —- priceless."