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New Study Says Bush Administration Puts Sea Turtles at Risk of Extinction

Science is Being Manipulated and Industry Allowed to Write New Rules
New rules that have reopened US waters to longline fishing for swordfish and tuna have been corrupted by faulty science and political influence, says a new study released today by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. The report, Techno-Fixing Sea Turtles: How the Bush Administration’s Manipulation of Science is Driving the Leatherback Sea Turtle Towards Extinction, documents how an admittedly flawed and incomplete report by government scientists has provided the basis to reopen the hotly contested fisheries which have been closed as a result of recent lawsuits by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and other conservation groups.

According to Todd Steiner, executive director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, which sued to close the Pacific longline fishery in 1999, “The new policies were put into place before the research was even published as a report let alone peer reviewed and tested.” To date, the report only exists in the form of a powerpoint presentation on the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) website.

By the admission of one of the NMFS authors of the report, the data has not even been checked for factual errors. “Chalk this one up as yet another example of junk science driving fisheries policy,” said Steiner.

Industry’s fingerprints are all over the science and new rule. “When longline lobbyists failed in their effort to sue the government to prevent it from regulating their industry, they co-sponsored the study on their own boats, got the Bush administration to lock out the public from the process, and then got the final rule watered down,” explains Robert Ovetz, PhD, Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator and author of the report.

“The study has failed to solve the threat of extinction for the endangered Pacific leatherback which cannot sustain even the reduced bycatch claimed to be achieved by the gear modifications,” warns Ovetz.

Scientists warn that the Pacific leatherback, a critically endangered species that migrates across the Pacific to feed and lays its eggs, will go extinct within the next 5-30 years if its adult mortality is not drastically reduced. The Pacific leatherback’s nesting population has plummeted from 91,000 in 1980 to fewer than 5,000 in 2002. The highest sources of adult mortality are due to industrialized longline fishing targeting swordfish, tuna, and shark.

The report lays out in detail how science is plagued by the following problems which raise strong doubt as to its legitimacy:

Science is untested, incomplete and not peer reviewed
Best science not being used for policymaking
Study rushed and incomplete
Data set inconsistent and incomplete
New rule does not satisfy the Biological Opinion
Observer coverage was extremely low
Data for sharks incomplete
Offsetting circle hooks defeats purpose
Gear already being exported and used abroad
New gear will increase catch of sharks
New rule changed in response to industry pressure
Bush administration cut off public comment on new rules
New rules favors lobby group that sued government to block regulation
The best case scenario of sea turtle bycatch reduction won’t prevent the extinction of the Pacific leatherback

Click here for a copy of Techno-Fixing Sea Turtles: How the Bush Administration’s Manipulation of Science is Driving the Leatherback Sea Turtle Towards Extinction.