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Eco-label for Florida Swordfish Challenged Due to Harm to Sea Turtles at Risk of Extinction

SeaTurtles.org Files Objection with Marine Stewardship Council Over Proposed Certification

Ocean conservationists at SeaTurtles.org filed an objection to the eco-labeling of a Florida longline fishery for swordfish by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The longline swordfish fishery captures and kills endangered sea turtles and dumps dead and dying billfish, bluefin tuna and shark overboard, a practice conservationists believe should prohibit this type of fishery from being labeled as “sustainable seafood.”

“This proposed swordfish certification is putting seafood profits before the health of sea turtles and the oceans,” said Teri Shore, Program Director at SeaTurtles.org (aka Turtle Island Restoration Network or TIRN) in California, a registered stakeholder in the Florida fishery assessment. “Giving an environmental seal of approval to this longline fishery will undermine the Marine Stewardship Council’s credibility as a standard for sustainable seafood.”

Click here to review the objection and here to download MSC’s acceptance of the objection. Stakeholders in the fishery assessment have until September 19 to provide comments on the objection.

The review of the fishery was conducted by private consultant MRAG Americas of St. Petersburg, FL, on the Day Boat Seafood operations based in Lake Park, Florida. Whole Foods Market based in Austin, Texas, buys most of the longline swordfish and supports the certification.
“The certifiers can’t support claims that they know how much swordfish can be caught and how many sea turtles are killed in the process,” said marine biologist Chris Pincetich at SeaTurtles.org. “The data is not there.”
Leading up to the filing of the official objection, the world’s largest ocean conservation groups provided detailed recommendations on how the fishery could be better operated to protect sea turtles and other marine life. For example, the fishery could have set a limit on the number of turtles it accidentally caught or switch completely to fishing gear that doesn’t capture sea turtles. When the final certification documents were released without these changes, SeaTurtles.org (TIRN) filed its objection with  the MSC head office in London, England.

MSC employs independent judges to assess the objection to the private certification report conducted by MRAG. A final ruling on the eco-label certification could take several weeks or months.

The swordfish fleet consists of almost 100 vessels and operates 100 to 150 miles offshore between Fort Pierce and the Florida Straits. Each year, the fleet drops an average of 400,000 hooks attached to longlines that stretch for as long at 40 miles into the ocean, incidentally entangling and injuring or killing all kinds of sea life.
Click here for to download the fishery assessment and background information http://seaturtles.org//article.php?id=2025

Background:
Evidence that the Florida longline swordfish fishery is not sustainable because of capture and harm to endangered and threatened sea turtles and other protected marine species includes:
Florida loggerhead sea turtles caught by the fleet have declined by 40 percent and are now being proposed for greater protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
In 2009, the Florida swordfish longline fleet caught an estimated 18 leatherback turtles and 40 loggerhead turtle based on vessel logbook entries and observations by National Marine Fisheries Service.

  • Between 2001 and 2008, the fishery’s estimated capture of turtles totaled 78 leatherbacks and 63 loggerheads each year, according to National Marine Fisheries Service.
  • Federal fishery managers closed the Florida longline fishery for years because too many turtles were being snared.
  • Many of the fish species incidentally caught and discarded are also in serious trouble.  For example, bluefin tuna, blue and white marlin, sailfish and shortfin mako sharks caught as bycatch are overfished and/or are subject to overfishing.
  • Whales, dolphins and seabirds may also swim or fly into the fishing gear.

 

Additional criticisms of the fishery assessment by MRAG Americas include:

  • The fishery assessment combines two separate fishing gear types into one assessment, the lower-impact handgear buoy line and the high bycatch longline fishery.
  •  If assessed separately, the handgear buoy line fishery would be more easily granted sustainable certification and the longline fishery could be denied.
  • MRAG claims good management of the fishery, but observer coverage in the Day Boat swordfish fleet is now below the minimum 8 percent coverage levels and vessels have not consistently reported interactions with sea turtles as required by law.         The fishery assessment ignores the cumulative impacts of U.S. Southeast Atlantic longline fishery which is managed as a whole and catches the same populations of swordfish and sea turtles.
  • Allowing this fishery to be certified independently of the larger fishery disregards the cumulative impacts of the overall fishery on sea turtles, marine mammals, fin fish species and marine ecosystems.
  • The Marine Stewardship Council is also recommending certification of the Canadian longline fishery without considering that the fleet there also fishes on the same swordfish and sea turtle populations.