The National Marine Fisheries Service yesterday announced new regulations for the Atlantic scallop fishery. The regulations known as Framework 21 set catch limits for the 2010 fishing year and implement rules intended to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles injured and killed by scallop dredges. In reality, the decision risks overfishing of scallops, habitat damage and harm to sea turtles.
In January, after months of political maneuvering including personal intervention by Representative Barney Frank and Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, the New England Fishery Management Council took unprecedented action by reconsidering a previous decision. Ultimately, the Council selected a higher risk approach for Framework 21 that appeased the short-term demands of the scallop industry while raising the potential for both overfishing of some scallop stocks and harm to loggerhead sea turtles in the Mid-Atlantic.
“This decision is the result of unabashed and unwarranted political strong-arming of the fisheries management process,” said Gib Brogan, Northeast Representative for Oceana. “As Congress calls for more attention to science in fisheries management, the Council rejects the advice of its scientific advisors. Framework 21 provides short-term gains for the $400 million scallop industry at the expense of the New England groundfish fishery, threatened sea turtles and the ocean ecosystem.”
As compared to the initially approved Framework 21, the new regulations will increase the area of ocean floor habitat disrupted by heavy scallop dredges by twenty-five percent, increase the amount of overfished yellowtail flounder caught by scallop dredges by thirty-three percent and increase scallop dredging by forty-three percent in the Mid-Atlantic region, which is an important habitat area for loggerhead sea turtles.
Framework 21 is required to reduce the interactions between scallop dredges and loggerhead sea turtles in the Mid-Atlantic during the summer and early fall months under requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The scallop fishery has significant interactions with loggerhead sea turtles, which were recently proposed for reclassification to “endangered” under the ESA.
In response to the requirements of the ESA, Framework 21 limits fishing in areas of the Mid-Atlantic that are managed under a rotational “access area” management program for scallops in the summer and fall when turtles are known to be present. Unfortunately, Framework 21 takes no action to limit scallop dredging in the remaining sea turtle habitat in the Mid-Atlantic.
“Even though loggerhead sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. government is allowing large numbers of them to be killed in one of the world’s most destructive fisheries,” said Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, marine scientist and fisheries campaign manager at Oceana. “Sea turtles know no boundaries and must be protected wherever they swim. Current human activities such as scallop dredging and oil spills are pushing loggerheads towards extinction.”