Florida Swordfish Fishery Proposed for Certification under Marine Stewardship Council Despite Harm to Sea Turtles
Public comment open until May 16, 2011
Sea turtle conservationists are opposing the proposed eco-labeling as sustainable of the Florida longline fishery for swordfish that captures and kills endangered sea turtles and dumps dead and dying billfish, bluefin tuna and shark overboard. The proposed certification by the Marine Stewardship Council of the longline fleet would allow the swordfish to be marketed as “sustainable seafood.”
The longline swordfish fleet that operates 100 to 150 miles off the coast of Florida between Fort Pierce and the Florida Straits in waters that provide breeding and migratory habitat for loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles that are at risk of extinction.
“If sea turtle lovers who so diligently protect Florida’s nesting beaches knew that the swordfish boats that hook and sometimes drown sea turtles along the coast are about to win an environmental seal of approval, they would be as outraged as we are,” said Teri Shore, Program Director for Turtle Island Restoration Network of California and Texas.
A draft assessment of the fishery under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainable fishery criteria has been released for public comment with a May 16 deadline by MRAG Americas of St. Petersburg, FL, on behalf of Day Boat Seafoods of Lake Park, Florida. (Download the fishery assessment as a PDF.) (Read more about groups opposing certification of the fishery.)
The MSC certification scheme has come under scrutiny from conservationists and fisheries scientists for allowing overfished species and high-bycatch gear, such as the longlines used by the Florida swordfish fleet, to get a sustainable seal of approval and for conflict of interest between certifiers and clients. (Download Nature article by Dr. Daniel Pauly as a PDF.)
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 being proposed for greater protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
In 2009, the 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 mean 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 current draft assessment 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.
MSC claims good management of the fishery, but observer coverage in the 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.
Observer coverage in the swordfish fleet has dropped below the minimum 8 percent coverage levels and vessels have not consistently reported interactions with sea turtles as required by law.
This certification 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.