Advisory Council Recognizes Severe Decline of West Coast Sea Turtles
and Need for Protection and Recovery

The Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) adopted a resolution yesterday urging National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Secretary of Commerce to deny a pending swordfish fishing permit proposed for the California coast. The permit must be issued by year’s end or expire.

The fishing permit would allow longline fishing and accidental capture of endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles and other marine species that utilize the waters of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary located along the Marin and Sonoma County coastlines. Only half the catch would be swordfish.

“Sea turtles would still find safe harbor in the sanctuary but outside its boundaries would face thousands of deadly hooks if a new swordfish fishery opens along our coast,” said Todd Steiner, a member of the Cordell Bank SAC and Executive Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, based in West Marin near Pt. Reyes Station. “This action by our Cordell Bank council will help protect sea turtles from this threat.”

The Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary provides foraging habitat for the critically endangered Pacific leatherback. These giant sea turtles travel more than 6,000 miles to cross the ocean from Indonesia to forage for jellyfish along the West Coast of the U. S. between August and December. Up to five  leatherbacks could be captured in the new California fishery if the pending permit is issued. Less than 10 percent of original Pacific leatherback populations remain, numbering a few thousand nesting females at best.

As many as 300 leatherbacks have been sighted along the California coast in one year since monitoring began in the late 1990s by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sea turtle scientists from NOAA have tagged 30 Pacific leatherbacks in West Coast sanctuaries since 2000 and are currently tracking and tagging leatherbacks outside the Golden Gate using aerial spotters.

The Cordell Bank SAC is composed of community members representing conservation, education, government, maritime activity, research, and community-at-large groups from coastal Marin and Sonoma Counties. SAC meetings are open to the public. The role of the SAC is to advise sanctuary managers.

National Marine Sanctuaries Act directs the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary to protect the biodiversity, productivity and aesthetic qualities of the Cordell Bank marine environment by evaluating and addressing adverse impacts from human activities on sanctuary resources and qualities.
The Gulf of the Farallones SAC is considering a similar resolution. The Monterey Bay SAC has not taken up the issue.