For Immediate Release, August 18, 2020


Contact: Annalisa Tuel, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (408) 621-8113,

Catherine Kilduff, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 780-8862,

 California to Hold Hearing on Listing Pacific Leatherbacks Under State Endangered Species Act

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California wildlife officials are accepting public comments and holding an online hearing Aug. 20 to determine if the state will accept a petition to list Pacific leatherback sea turtles under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

The Pacific leatherback population has declined by 80% over the past 40 years. These giant, ancient, soft-shelled sea turtles swim across the Pacific Ocean to feed on jellyfish off the West Coast. But on arrival — and despite federal protection — they are captured, injured, and drowned in gillnets, crab-trap lines and other fishing gear that targets tuna and swordfish.

Protecting leatherbacks under the state’s Endangered Species Act would make them a state conservation priority. The state law would also provide a backstop to potentially weakened protections for leatherbacks under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The petition to list leatherbacks under the state’s Endangered Species Act was filed Jan. 9 by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

“This is California’s chance to save a species that has existed since the time of dinosaurs,” said Annalisa Tuel, policy and advocacy manager for Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We are hopeful the California Fish and Game Commission will do the right thing by accepting our petition to ensure leatherbacks do not go extinct in our lifetimes.”

Pacific leatherback sea turtles are highly endangered and listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2016 the National Marine Fisheries Service identified leatherback sea turtles as one of eight species most at risk of extinction. The Service says reducing their entanglement in fishing gear is the top priority for ensuring their survival.

“California has an opportunity here to lead by example and show other states how they can play a powerful role in fight against the global extinction crisis,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center attorney. “The time to save leatherback sea turtles is now.”

A new review of leatherback sea turtle science released on Monday concludes that seven distinct populations of leatherback sea turtles face a high extinction risk. The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that all seven leatherback sea turtle populations remain endangered, and denied a petition by the commercial fishing industry to relax some protections.

Turtle Island Restoration Network sued the Trump administration after a fishing permit issued last year exempted vessels from the federal ban on longline gear off California. Longlines stretch up to 60 miles, with thousands of baited hooks. A federal judge in Oakland ruled Dec. 20 that the federal government had failed to adequately consider impacts on leatherbacks when it revived longline fishing, blocking the permit.

Turtle Island Restoration Network is a global ocean conservation nonprofit based in Olema, California whose mission is to inspire and mobilize people around the world to protect marine biodiversity and the oceans that sustain all life on Earth.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.