Oceana To Sue Federal Fisheries Service Over Failure To Protect Threatened and Endangered Sea Turtles From Scallop Dredges
Press Release Date: October 5, 2009
The federal fisheries management service continues to allow scallop fishing off the Mid-Atlantic Coast even though scallop vessels are catching and killing large numbers of threatened and endangered sea turtles. That is why Oceana formally notified Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans of its intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries Service) over its failure to protect protected loggerhead and other sea turtles – a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
According to the federal Fisheries Service, scallop vessels annually catch approximately 95 sea turtles in two relatively small areas off the coasts of New Jersey and the northern tip of North Carolina that make up only six percent of the scallop fishing grounds (1,934 nm2 out of about 32,000 nm2). In the other 94 percent of the 30,000 nautical miles in question, the Government has failed to analyze or account for the number of sea turtles caught and killed.
“In light of the great lengths local governments, organizations and volunteers go to ensure that sea turtle nests are not disturbed so hatchlings can make it to the sea, it is amazing and sad that the Fisheries Service authorizes a fishery that could be killing the benefits we are achieving on land.” said Charlotte Hudson, the marine wildlife scientist for Oceana. “The government must act to protect turtles in the water as well as on the land.”
Scallop dredging is a particularly destructive fishing practice. Boats drag huge, heavy metal bags — each weighing thousands of pounds — across the seafloor, where they pulverize everything in their path, including threatened and endangered sea turtles. Sea turtles caught by scallop dredges may be crushed, drowned, or mauled.
Sea turtles have lived in the oceans for millions of years. Today, all five species that swim within U.S. waters are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. “We ask that the Fisheries Service protect endangered species as required by law,” said Eric Bilsky, a senior attorney for Oceana. “If the government is serious about protecting sea turtles, it must acknowledge the extent of this problem and protect sea turtles from scallop fishing.”
Oceana is a non-profit international advocacy organization that organizes campaigns to restore and protect the world’s oceans through policy advocacy, science, law and public education. Founded in 2001, Oceana’s has over 160,000 members and activists from more than 150 countries. Oceana, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has additional offices in key U.S. coastal areas, a South American office in Santiago, Chile, and a European office in Spain. For more information, please visit www.Oceana.org
SEA TURTLE TAKES IN THE NORTHEAST OFFSHORE
SCALLOP DREDGE FISHERY
· Oceana Takes Action to ProtectSeaTurtles in the Northeast: Oceana formally notified Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans of its intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service over its failure to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles in Amendment 10 to the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan – a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
· ScallopDredgingPutsThreatenedLoggerheadSeaTurtles at Risk: The scallop fleet dredges for scallops throughout the New England and Mid-Atlantic continental shelf, in waters from 60-300 feet. The Fisheries Service has observed sea turtle captures in scallop dredge fishing gear since 2001.
· Sea Turtle Taken in the Mid-Atlantic: The distribution of loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, and green sea turtles overlaps with the distribution of scallop gear from the southern boundary of the management area (North Carolina/South Carolina border) to Cape Cod. Sea turtles routinely migrate as water temperatures change along the Coast to summer foraging grounds off New York, New Jersey and Southern New England. Most observed takes occurred in the Mid-Atlantic, off the coast of New York and New Jersey, during the Summer and Fall.
· Timeline: The New England Fishery Management Council approved Scallop Amendment 10 in September 2003. The National Marine Fisheries Service approved the rule in April 2004 and will publish implementing regulations in May 2004.
· The Facts: According to the government, the offshore scallop fleet annually catches approximately 95 sea turtles in two relatively small areas off the coasts of New Jersey and the northern tip of North Carolina that make up only 6% of the scallop fishing grounds (1,934 nm2 out of approximately 32,000 nm2).
· Flaws in the Biological Opinion: In the other 94% of the approximately 32,000 nautical miles in question, the government has failed to analyze or account for the number of sea turtles caught and killed. The Fisheries Service made no reasonable effort to estimate the number of sea turtle takes by dredge gear in the vast majority of the Mid-Atlantic. Instead, it improperly set the total number of takes equal to the number of turtles observer caught, even though the Fisheries Service acknowledges that its approach is extremely unreliable and underestimates sea turtle takes.
· No protection for sea turtles: Scallop Amendment 10 contains no measures to stop the hundreds of sea turtle takes occurring in the Mid-Atlantic. Threatened loggerhead sea turtles are at risk. The Fisheries Service has failed to increase observer coverage of the scallop fleet to accurately count sea turtle takes. The Fisheries Service failed to close to fishing sea-turtle migratory corridors in the Mid-Atlantic while the turtles were passing through.
· Public comments ignored: The Fisheries Service ignored Oceana’s concerns and the concerns of thousands of East Coast citizens that commented on this, and prior proposals.
· The Need to Sue: Oceana submitted its original comments to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles in 2001. Now, three years later, the Fisheries Service still has not taken any action to protect sea turtles in the Mid-Atlantic – even though all species of sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered on the Endangered Species Act.