Oceana filed a motion today with the U.S. District Court seeking to protect hundreds of threatened and endangered sea turtles by asking the court to close the sea scallops fishery in the Mid-Atlantic area of the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Oceana took this action as a last resort to make the National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries Service) meet federal requirements to protect endangered sea turtles.
Oceana seeks to keep the Mid-Atlantic sea scallop fishery closed until the Fisheries Service revises its biological opinion analyzing how commercial scallop fishing affects sea turtles. Oceana also calls for the Fisheries Service to increase observer coverage to collect and use statistically-reliable information about the scallop fleets' effect on all marine life.
The Fisheries Service knows that scallop dredges catch and kill sea turtles in the Mid-Atlantic, but refuses to calculate the exact number caught in all fishing grounds or to deploy enough observers to count the number of sea turtles caught. So there is no way to tell whether scallop fishing is driving these endangered and threatened sea turtles to extinction.
Oceana asks that the court close only the Mid-Atlantic portion of the sea scallops fishery, which runs from the ocean offshore of New York down to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, because loggerhead, leatherback, Kemp's ridley and green sea turtles annually migrate along the coast to summer feeding grounds off New York, New Jersey and Southern New England. Most of the turtles get caught or killed in the Mid-Atlantic.
"Oceana is taking this action because the Fisheries Service pretends that it doesn't have the data," said Eric Bilsky, senior attorney for Oceana. "The Fisheries Service has bent over backwards to ignore warning signs that too many sea turtles are being caught and killed in scallop dredges."
"Even the scallop industry recognizes that this is a serious problem," said Dave Allison, director of Oceana's Campaign to Stop Destructive Trawling. "They have proposed putting chains on the front of the dredge to keep turtles out. While we applaud the industry's search for a solution, it is the responsibility of the Fisheries Service to define the problem and thoroughly test the "turtle chains" to determine whether they protect or harm these vulnerable marine creatures."
Oceana submitted its original comments to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles in 2001. Now, three years later, the federal Fisheries Service and the New England Fishery Management Council still have not take effective action to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles. The Fisheries Service made no reasonable effort to estimate the number of sea turtles caught by scallop dredge gear in the vast majority of the Mid-Atlantic ocean and failed to increase observer coverage or implement any seasonal closures in sea turtle migratory corridors in the Mid-Atlantic. Recent studies make it clear that our oceans are in trouble and that we must take action now to stop the decline.