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Oceana Outraged: U.S. Government Increases Authorized Capture of Threatened Loggerhead Sea Turtles by 14 Times in Eight Mid-Atlantic and New England Fisheries

Press Release Date

Monday, November 1, 2010
Location: Washington, D.C.

The U.S. government announced late-Friday it is increasing the number of threatened loggerhead sea turtles that can be legally caught annually in eight Mid-Atlantic and New England fisheries by more than 14 times, from 42 to 610 sea turtles. The western north Atlantic loggerhead population has declined significantly over the last decade and the government recently proposed stronger protections for this population by changing its status from threatened to endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Oceana’s senior campaign director Dave Allison responded with the following statement:

“Oceana is outraged by the government’s decision to increase the authorized catch of threatened loggerhead sea turtles in the Atlantic by more than 14 times. The number of loggerhead sea turtles that can be legally caught by these eight Mid-Atlantic and New England fisheries jumped from 42 to 610. The government once again reviewed each of these fisheries in a vacuum, ignoring the impacts of other fisheries and activities that interact with sea turtles. The U.S. government needs to look at the cumulative impacts of all fisheries on sea turtle populations to adequately assess whether commercial fishing has a negative impact on these at risk species.

Bottom trawls and gillnets are to blame for the vast majority of sea turtle bycatch in these eight fisheries. The government is simply turning a blind eye to sea turtle bycatch by rubber stamping these new authorized catch levels rather than requiring the industry to reduce its impact on threatened and endangered sea turtles. Of the eight fisheries, the ones with the highest levels of loggerhead sea turtle bycatch are the summer flounder, scup and black seabass fishery, and the monkfish fishery.

Other protected sea turtles, leatherback, Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles are also allowed to be caught in these eight fisheries. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s method for setting authorized take levels for these species is flawed. Because the Fisheries Service claims it does not have enough data to estimate how many sea turtles are actually being caught, it sets the authorized levels based on the number of sea turtles observed to be caught. However, only a tiny fraction of these fisheries have fisheries observers onboard, therefore observed sea turtle takes are likely to be well below the number that are actually caught. 

The Fisheries Service released a report documenting the impact of Mid-Atlantic and New England trawls on loggerhead sea turtles in September 2006.  More than four years later, the Fisheries Service is just now updating its authorization levels for these fisheries, but continues to fail to take action to solve the problem. In fact, most trawl fisheries are still allowed to operate without a simple solution that is successfully utilized in other U.S. trawl fisheries – turtle excluder devices (TEDs), which allow sea turtles to escape after being unintentionally captured.”