Government Declares Open Season on Endangered and Threatened Sea Turtles | Oceana

Government Declares Open Season on Endangered and Threatened Sea Turtles

Press Release Date: October 1, 2009

Location: Washington, DC


Anna Baxter | email:
Anna Baxter

Oceana today released Net Casualties, a new report revealing that the federal government authorizes commercial fishing operations in the United States to kill nearly 10,000 sea turtles and harm another 334,000 each year without assessing the harm done to populations of endangered and threatened sea turtles. Oceana’s report, based the government’s own documents and data, is the first time that anyone has tallied the total number of sea turtles the government authorizes U.S. commercial fishing operations to harm and kill.

“Commercial fishing could be driving sea turtles to extinction, and the government really doesn’t seem to care,” said Elizabeth Griffin, marine wildlife scientist at Oceana. “The system is broken when the government allows commercial fishing operations to harm and kill large numbers of sea turtles, which it’s supposed to protect under the Endangered Species Act.”

The report also found that for virtually all fisheries, the government has no idea how many turtles are actually caught and killed. Worse yet, the report found that for those few fisheries where estimates exist for turtle deaths and injuries, the government lets fishing continue when the “limits” for injuring and killing sea turtles are reached-regardless of its toll on sea turtles.

“Most people would assume that fishing would stop when a limit is reached for the number of sea turtles a fishery can harm and kill.” said Griffin. “Unfortunately for the turtles, the government clearly doesn’t operate this way.”

All six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act and as a result the killing or harming of these species is prohibited. However, the federal government is allowed to provide special exceptions to allow for human activities such as fishing – and authorize specific levels of harm, injury, and death of sea turtles — but only if it determines that this will not impede the population’s recovery or cause further decline. Oceana’s report documents how far the government’s approach to turtle protection has strayed from this goal. Today Oceana also sent a letter to William T. Hogarth, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, demanding that he correct his agency’s flawed management and make immediate changes to protect sea turtles, specifically:

  • Increase at-sea fishery observers to obtain counts and estimates of the sea turtles injured and killed by commercial fishing,
  • Establish rules that enforce existing catch and kill limits, and
  • Stop fishing activity when the annual limits are reached.

The letter also calls for the Fisheries Service to conduct at-sea surveys to obtain better data on sea turtle populations, a recommendation of its own Sea Turtle Working Group, comprised of leading scientists and researchers. “These measures will protect sea turtles while allowing fishing to continue,” said Griffin. “It’s time for the government to take its responsibilities seriously, and take action now, before it is too late for the turtles.”

Oceana’s Net Casualties report and letter can be found at

Katie Burnham 202-467-1906,
Bianca DeLille 202-904-9046,