Environmentalist and Other Groups Propose Alternative Measures to Prevent the Extinction of the Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle

On Monday, the new Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, meeting in Pohnpei, Micronesia, will begin consideration of a US proposal to reduce the injury and killing of endangered sea turtles by longline fishing in the Pacific. Environmental, animal welfare and recreational fishing organizations, including Humane Society International, Oceana and Larry M. Brown, Brown & and Associates, Inc., warn that the plan is too limited, weak and incomplete to prevent the extinction of the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle. Some of the last remaining leatherback beaches lie in the management area of the Commission and the turtle is documented to migrate throughout the area.

“Scientific data shows the exact migratory routes used by leatherbacks across the Pacific. Instead of calling for keeping all destructive longline fishing out of these sensitive areas, the US has proposed a different sized fishing hook for a fraction of the longline fleet. This is a plan doomed for failure,” said Robert Ovetz, Ph.D. Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator of the US based Sea Turtle Restoration Project who is attending the second meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in Micronesia this week.

On November 28th, the United Nations General Assembly passed a sustainable fisheries resolution that calls for closures of fishing in areas where large numbers of critically endangered sea turtles are caught or killed. The critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle is on the verge of extinction and is expected by scientists to go extinct in the next 5-30 years unless immediate measures to eliminate threats posed by industrial longline fishing are taken.

The US proposal requests that 18/0 sized circle hooks, now used in only some US waters, be required only for swordfish longline vessels operating in the WCPFC convention area. Tuna longliners, the vast majority of the fleet, would be exempted. The proposal also calls for training fishers to avoid sea turtles and release them unharmed when caught. However, the plan does not call for closing areas where the most turtles are caught as the US itself has done by banning longline fishing along its entire West Coast and as the UN supports.

“The US plan will do nothing to stop the slide of the leatherback to extinction. The scientifically questionable circle hook does not work for the leatherback because these turtles do not go for the bait but mostly get tangled in the line,” said Ovetz. “We know which parts of the Pacific the leatherback uses. We need to close those areas to longlines at times when they are most vulnerable.”

Earlier this year, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project delivered a letter to the UN signed by 1,007 scientists from 97 countries and 281 non-governmental organizations from 64 countries urging it to implement a moratorium on high seas industrial longline fishing in the Pacific. The list of signers includes famed primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and former U.S. astronaut Bernard Harris, Jr. M.D.


• For a copy of our recommendations and proposal for time and area closures along sea turtle migration routes being delivered at the WCPFC go to:

• For a copy of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s new book Striplining the Pacific on the impact of longline fishing on the Pacific leatherback go to: http://www.seaturtles.org/press_release2.cfm?pressID=259

• For a copy of the scientist and NGO letters to the UN calling for a moratorium on longline fishing in the Pacific go to: http://www.seaturtles.org/press_release2.cfm?pressID=261

• For a review copy of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s new documentary film Last Journey for the Leatherback? contact Robert Ovetz, PhD at 415 488 0370 x 106.

Photo/Damien du Toit.