Fishing Gear A Death Trap for Sea Turtles

New fishery observer data has shown that every endangered olive ridley sea turtle caught by the Hawaiian longline tuna fleet was killed.

Additionally, because the fishery has exceeded its annual legal allowable catch and kill limits of threatened olive ridley sea turtles, environmentalists are urging the closure of the fishery and a more comprehensive solution to protect marine life which includes a United Nations Pacific-wide moratorium on industrial longline fishing.

In 1999, a US federal court required a time-area closure for the longline tuna fishery in order to protect the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle.

Leatherbacks were being caught at exceptionally high numbers by the fishery. However, even with this protective measure for the leatherbacks, every single IUCN Redlisted endangered olive ridley sea turtles that was caught by the tuna longliners was killed.

In the first three quarters of 2004, the longline tuna fishery killed all 10 olive ridley sea turtles snagged on longlines.

“These turtles aren’t even given a fighting chance. Not only has the fishery exceeded its legal take limit but it killed every turtle it caught. This is further evidence that this incredibly destructive fishery is a continuing threat to endangered ocean wildlife,” said Robert Ovetz, Ph.D., Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

The legal take limit for 2004 for olive ridleys is set at 37 caught of which only 35 can be killed. However, because only 25.3 percent of the vessels had observers onboard at the time the data was collected, it can be estimated that the take for olive ridleys is about 40 caught and all 40 killed in just the first three quarters of 2004.

“A short-term fix that protects one turtle but kills another in its place is just a sleight of hand,” explained Todd Steiner, Executive Director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. Steiner concluded that, “We need a comprehensive solution, like international marine protected areas, that will protect all species, not just shift the burden.”

Last month, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project released a report showing that, based on NOAA Fisheries own data, an estimated 4.4 million sea turtles, sharks, billfish, seabirds and marine mammals are caught and killed by longlines each year in the Pacific.

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is calling upon the United Nations to implement a moratorium on high seas longline fishing. To date, 744 international scientists from 84 countries, including Dr. Sylvia Earle and biologist E.O. Wilson, and representatives of 269 NGOs from 43 countries have signed a petition supporting the moratorium.

Source: Coastal Post/Robert Ovetz

Image: NMF