NOAA Fisheries Service OK’s Only Partial Season Closure of Scallop Dreding to Protect Sea Turtles
Press Release Date: October 1, 2009
The National Marine Fisheries Service today announced new rules for the Atlantic scallop fishery, which for the first time will use time and area closures of scallop fishing grounds to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles from being injured and killed in underwater collisions with fast-moving two-ton dredges of the commercial scallop fishery.
NOAA Fisheries Service announced that the fishing area commonly referred to as the Elephant Trunk Access Area off the Delmarva coast will be closed to scallop dredgers from September 1-October 31, 2006 through 2012. In 2002 the federal government’s at-sea observers began reporting high numbers of sea turtles being injured or killed in scallop dredges in the Mid-Atlantic. Since then, Oceana has advocated to close scallop dredging areas for at least the full three months that turtles migrate most heavily through the area.
“As we noted at the time this New England Fishery Management Council proposal was submitted to NOAA, this is a first, though inadequate, step to reduce scallop dredge collisions with threatened and endangered sea turtles,” said David Allison, director of Oceana’s Campaign to Stop Destructive Trawling. “Much more needs to be done.”
“While this decision does, finally, provide some protection for sea turtles with little cost to the commercial fishery, the government seems more interested in appearing to be taking meaningful action than in actually providing permanent real protection for threatened and endangered sea-turtles,” said Allison. “The failure of the council to propose, or of NOAA to insist on, permanent time and area closures is particularly disturbing, since scallopers will be able to access the Elephant Trunk area to dredge up the scallops during the remainder of the year.”
Government scientists reported that the offshore commercial Atlantic sea scallop fishery killed more than 700 threatened loggerhead sea turtles from 2002 to 2004. Scallop dredges often span 15 feet and are made of steel chain links and bars that weigh more than two tons. They move through the water at speeds of four to five knots per hour when they encounter the sea turtles. Scallop dredges most often run into the turtles off the Mid-Atlantic coast during summer months, when sea turtles migrate to northern waters off New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland to feed.
Until today’s ruling, the federal government, the New England Fishery Management Council and the industry had not taken action to protect sea turtles, even though federal reports showed that the fishery maimed and killed hundreds of sea turtles in the past several years.
“There are remaining problems with scallop dredges that need to be addressed, but at least today’s action reflects the government’s knowledge that we should and we can protect sea turtles and still realize all of the economic benefits of fishing for scallops,” said Allison. “The councils should act on that knowledge and enact permanent time and area closures of the scallop fishery for the entire duration of the sea-turtle migrations.”