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21 California Congressional Members Sign Letter Opposing Longlines

Washington, DC – Twenty-one of California’s Congressional Representatives have signed a Dear Colleague letter co-authored by Representative Sam Farr (CA-17) and Lynn Woolsey (CA-6) opposing the Federal proposals to permit swordfish longline fishing in vital sea turtle habitat off the California coast. The Dear Colleague Letter specifically requests that the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS)—the federal agency responsible for managing the nation’s fisheries—to reject plans for a new swordfish longline fishery off the California Coast. A commercial swordfish longline fishery has never been allowed within 200 miles of California’s shores because of past state regulations. See the Dear Colleague Letter.

“Every leatherback sea turtle we lose to fishing lines could be the last straw for a species that survived the extinction of the dinosaurs,” said Michael Milne, leatherback campaigner for Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “It is time for the federal government to ‘cut bait’ on this unpopular, dangerous longline fishery.”

A final decision from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on the proposed Federal fishery is expected in the next several weeks. If approved, the permit would allow longline fishing between 50 to 200 miles from California’s shores using lines stretching up to 60 miles and containing thousands of hooks. The catch brings in by weight approximately 50% swordfish and 50% other fish, sharks, seabirds, seals, dolphins, whales, other marine mammals, and sea turtles, including the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle.

California’s Congressional representatives join the California State Legislature—who passed Assembly Joint Resolution 62 (Leno, D-San Francisco) this past July—California Department of Fish & Game, the California Coastal Commission, the California Ocean Protection Council, recreational fishing organizations, and a broad coalition of environmental organizations in formal opposition to the longline fishery proposal.

“It is ironic that these ancient creatures could swim more than 6,000 miles from Indonesia just to drown off our coast,” said Santi Roberts of Oceana. “The agency should stop trying to use these Exempted Fishery Permits to circumvent the regulatory process and broadly supported conservation measures designed to protect our imperiled ocean resources.”

The California coast contains one of the most important feeding areas on earth for the critically endangered Pacific leatherback. Pacific Leatherback sea turtles feast on jellyfish along California’s coast after a 6,000-mile swim from their nesting beaches in Indonesia.

Injury and death from interactions with shallow-set longline fishing gear targeting swordfish is a direct contributor to the rapid decline and the potential extinction of Pacific Leatherback and North Pacific Loggerhead sea turtles, according to sea turtle scientists. Scientists estimate that the Pacific leatherback could become extinct within 20 to 30 years if existing fishery by-catch rates of these sea turtles are not reduced.

Nevertheless, the NMFS seeks to expand the fishery with two new federal swordfish permits:

1. An “exempted fishing permit” (EFP) for an experimental swordfish fishery of the California coast in the Exclusive Economic Zone (3-200 miles from shore)

2. A second permit would establish a new high seas swordfish fishery beyond 200 miles that was closed in the past due to sea turtle captures because it’s continued operation would violate the Endangered Species Act

The Dear Colleague letter was signed by Representatives Farr (CA-17), Woolsey (CA-6), Capps (CA-23), Eshoo (CA-14), Watson (CA-33), Napolitano (CA-38, Schiff (CA-29), Honda (CA-15), Davis (CA-53), Thompson (CA-01), Richardson (CA-37), Lee (CA-9), Miller (CA-7), Stark, Filner (CA-13), Lofgren (CA-51), Matsui (CA-5), Sanchez (CA-39), Sanchez CA-47), Waxman (CA-30), and Waters (CA-35).