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Longline Moratorium Campaign Gaining Momentum

Twenty Three NGOs Actively Lobbying UN for Solution
Forest Knolls, CA – On the eve of a key United Nations meeting relating to the oceans, a growing number of international scientists and non-governmental organizations are actively lobbying their country delegates to address the problem of industrial longline fishing in the Pacific. The scientists and NGOs are also joined in their efforts by members of the New Zealand, Irish and EU parliaments. The lobbying effort echoes the call of more than 800 international scientists and 230 NGOs who are also asking for a moratorium on industrial longline fishing in order to protect endangered leatherback sea turtles, albatross, sharks and other species caught and killed as bycatch by industrial longliners. The proposed moratorium, which has received the support of several countries, will protect endangered species, preserve commercial fish stocks, and save resources for small-scale coastal fishing communities.

“A wide range of organizations are suddenly realizing that immediate action needs to be taken on the longlining problem,” said Dr. Robert Ovetz, who leads the Save the Leatherback Campaign which has been organizing the effort. “Longlining is more than just a sea turtle problem. It’s a broader economic, environmental and social problem that is going unchecked. The UN is in a unique position to fix this problem.”

Twenty three NGOs as well as 34 scientists are currently lobbying their UN delegations, representing 28 countries, to ensure that the longlining issue is placed on the agenda of the June 6-10 meeting of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Members of parliament from three countries and a former member of a scientific consultative committee of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization from Senegal have also joined in the effort. On Wednesday, March 16th, the delegates to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea will be meeting at UN headquarters in New York City to set the agenda for the June meeting.

Organizations that have contacted their representatives include Humane Society International (Australia), Environmental Protection of Asia Foundation (Philippines), Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (Mexico), Royal Forest and Bird Society (New Zealand), Pro-Natura International (Nigeria), Tethys Research Institute (Italy), Friends of the Oldman River (Canada), Croatian Natural History Museum Department of Zoology, Society for the Conservation of Sea Mammals (Denmark), Fundacion Jatun Sacha (Ecuador), Friends of the National Zoos (Ghana), Ecological Society of the Philippines, Save Our Seas Tobago, National Environment Management Authority, Brown & Associates, Environmental Investigation Agency (UK/US), Animal Protection Institute (US), and The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance (US).

The work of these organizations has resulted in favorable responses from member countries. The government of Croatia has stated that it will support the proposal for a moratorium on high seas pelagic longlining in the Pacific while the government of Costa Rica is taking the lead to put the issue of longline fishing on the agenda. Other countries have expressed their sympathy with the solution with more expected to support the proposal.

“The problem of longlining needs to get on the UN’s agenda in order to reach a win-win solution,” added Ovetz. “If we do not begin working on a solution now, endangered species may disappear and a major protein source for the world’s poor may be irreparably diminished.”

Nesting female Pacific leatherbacks have declined by 95% since 1980. A recent study in the scientific journal Ecology Letters estimates that worldwide about 200,000 loggerheads and 50,000 leatherbacks are caught every two years by longlines. Scientists have warned that the Pacific leatherback could go extinct within the next 5-30 years unless immediate action is taken to reverse their slide into oblivion. One of those actions is to impose a Pacific wide moratorium on longline fishing. Other species are also significantly impacted as well such as billfish, marine mammals, sharks and seabirds. The black-footed albatross, also caught in large numbers by longline fishing, is also on the verge of extinction. A new study of longlining in the Pacific to be published in the scientific journal Ecology estimates that large pelagic fish populations have declined by 90% and the population of blue sharks has declined by 87% since the 1950s.