A key committee of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted today to protect sea turtles from the bottom longline sector of the Gulf of Mexico reef fish fishery. Specifically, the Reef Fish Management Committee requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issue an emergency rule prohibiting longline gear in waters shallower than 50 fathoms for a five month period, effective as soon as possible. The five month emergency closure would protect sea turtles while NMFS develops a long-term solution.
Most of the sea turtles caught by the bottom longline sector of this fishery are loggerheads, a species listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). "Under the ESA, immediate changes in this fishery must be taken to protect loggerhead sea turtles," said Elizabeth Griffin, marine wildlife scientist at Oceana.
According to recent Government data, nearly 1,000 sea turtles were caught by bottom longlines in this fishery in just 18 months. This is approximately eight times the federally authorized capture level for the entire fishery.
"If fishing was allowed to continue while a long-term solution is developed, hundreds more of this threatened species could be killed," said Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana. "Today's decision is an enormous step in the right direction and now it's up to the full council."
The Council is expected to review, and hopefully approve, the proposal of the Reef Fish Management Committee this Thursday, January 29.
About the Bottom Longline Sector of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery:
The bottom longline sector operates by putting out miles of fishing line with baited hooks that sink to the ocean floor, where they intend to catch snapper and grouper. In their effort to catch reef fish, the fishery unintentionally injures, captures and drowns sea turtles.
About the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council:
The Gulf Council is one of eight regional Fishery Management Councils established by the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Council prepares fishery management plans designed to manage fishery resources from where state waters end, out to the 200-mile limit of the Gulf of Mexico. These waters are also known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).