The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently reported that Atlantic sea scalloppers caught twelve times as many threatened and endangered sea turtles in 2003 in certain areas of the Mid-Atlantic as NMFS previously predicted would be caught. In addition, noted Oceana, even the revised NMFS estimates conflict with available data and appear to vastly underestimate sea turtle captures.
In 2001 and 2002, NMFS observers reported scallop fishermen catching threatened loggerhead sea turtles off the New York and New Jersey coasts during the turtles’ annual migration. In response, the Endangered Species Act required NMFS to assess the impacts of the sea scallop fishery on threatened and endangered sea turtles. Despite that obligation, the level of at-sea observer coverage and actual data about sea turtle captures in the majority of the Mid-Atlantic region remained at near-zero levels.
As a result, NMFS estimated that in the small part of the mid Atlantic monitored by observers (6% of the region) scalloppers would catch 95 sea turtles. In the remaining 94% of the region, an area with no regular observer coverage, NFMS estimated that scalloppers would catch only one sea turtle. Already, data from the few observer trips into the larger region indicates that many more turtles have been taken. In light of the new data, NMFS has increased its estimate to 12 sea turtles takes in the largely unmonitored area. “The NMFS analysis fails to extrapolate data from the relatively few scallop fishing trips that do have observers to the tens of thousands of scallop fishing trips that do not have at-sea observers,” noted Chris Zeman, New England Fishery Program Counsel for Oceana. “Oceana urges NMFS to acknowledge that many more sea turtles than those reported by scalloppers and observers are being captured and killed.”
East Coast Northern Loggerhead sea turtles are dying because of both fishery interactions and land-based activities that upset sea turtle nesting. “It is troubling that the agency does not know how the scallop fishery affects the continued survival of these majestic sea creatures,” said Charlotte Hudson, marine wildlife scientist for Oceana. “To restore sea turtle populations, NMFS immediately needs to evaluate activities known to injure and kill sea turtles, and develop a comprehensive sea turtle protection and recovery plan for the East Coast.”
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 190 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, please visit www.oceana.org.