Today Oceana sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in federal district court as part of its ongoing effort to protect sensitive marine habitats and threatened and endangered sea turtles from destructive scallop dredging in New England and Mid-Atlantic waters. The lawsuit challenges NMFS regulations known as Framework Adjustment 15, which continue the government’s mismanagement of the scallop fishery for the fifth year in a row. The management measures fail to protect sensitive cod nursery grounds or to reduce the millions of pounds of wasteful bycatch—including bycatch of uncounted numbers of threatened and endangered sea turtles – while at the same time authorizing increased scallop fishing and the seafloor destruction which results.
“Since 1998, federal law has required fishery managers to protect sensitive marine habitats from destructive fishing activities,” explained Chris Zeman, Oceana’s New England Fisheries Program Counsel and an advisor to the New England Council on management of the sea scallop fishery. “Although the science is clear that we need to protect habitats from scallop dredging, it is now 2003 and we still do not have any on-the-water protections in place for these critically important, yet fragile, cod nursery areas in the Great South Channel.”
Scallop dredging bulldozes the seafloor, removing it of sponges, corals, and other structures critical to other marine life. Recent studies show that scallop dredging removes nearly 80 percent of most marine life on the ocean bottom in just one pass of a scallop dredge. Valuable New England groundfish such as cod rely on habitats that are destroyed by scallop dredges. Oceana has urged NMFS to protect sensitive juvenile cod habitat.
“In addition to our habitat concerns, we are suing NMFS for failing to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles and other marine life from being caught in scallop dredges and trawls,” said Sylvia Liu, Senior Attorney at Oceana. In recent years, observers on scallop vessels in re-opened scallop fishing areas in the Mid-Atlantic reported high levels of sea turtle takes in the summer months when these rare creatures migrate.
A new scientific report by the government describes how scallop gear can kill or severely injure sea turtles, many of which either drowned or were crushed by the dredge.
In its Endangered Species Act biological opinion analyzing the impacts of scallop fishing on sea turtles, NMFS concluded that the fishery would only take 97 sea turtles each year, and that this level of takes would not jeopardize sea turtle populations on the Atlantic Coast. However, NMFS admitted that this number underestimates the number of sea turtles that will likely be caught each year.
“ We are concerned that NMFS has not adequately evaluated the threat that scallop dredging and trawling has on sea turtle populations,” said Charlotte Gray, Marine Wildlife Scientist for Oceana. “Basically, NMFS only estimated the number of sea turtle takes in two small areas in the Mid-Atlantic. NMFS cannot ignore that the same fishing gear in similar areas may also capture sea turtles and must account for these impacts.”
“Last summer, NMFS observers reported over 25 scallop dredge interactions with sea turtles—about half were killed in dredges—as they migrated up the eastern seaboard,” said Gib Brogan, Oceana’s New England Field Representative, “But only about 56 trips were observed. NMFS must report on and address the turtle catch in the thousands of other unobserved scallop dredge trips in the Mid-Atlantic.”
Oceana is a non-profit international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the world's oceans through policy advocacy, science, law and public education. Founded in 2001, Oceana's constituency includes members and activists from more than 150 countries and territories who are committed to saving the world’s marine environment. In 2002, the American Oceans Campaign became part of Oceana’s international effort to protect ocean eco-systems and sustain the circle of life. Oceana, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has additional offices in key U.S. coastal areas and will open offices in Latin America and Europe in 2003. For more information, visit www.oceana.org.