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Ocean Groups Oppose Eco-labeling of Turtle-deadly Florida Longline Fishery

First Public Meeting in Miami August 11

A national coalition of sea turtle and ocean groups, sport fishers and public health advocates are opposing the “sustainable” eco-labeling of the Florida longline fishery for tuna and swordfish by the Marine Stewardship Council. The first public stakeholder meeting on the eco-certification is being held on Wednesday, August 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Mutiny Hotel in Miami.

Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) of California is the lead sea turtle organization opposing the eco-labeling of the tuna and swordfish fisheries by the Marine Stewardship Council. This is due to high levels of accidental catch and injury or death on longline hooks of endangered and threatened sea turtles, marine mammals, seabirds and fish species including bluefin tuna, billfish, rays and shark. More than 50 percent of the catch in the longline fishery consists of non-target marine animals. See the fact sheet on by catch in the Florida fishery. See TIRN’s comments on the fishery.

“The tuna and swordfish longline fisheries in Florida are deadly to sea turtles and certainly not ocean-friendly,” said Teri Shore, Program Director for TIRN, which has stopped new longline fisheries from opening on the U. S. West Coast. “Awarding an eco-label to these wasteful longline fisheries is irresponsible and would expedite the emptying of our oceans.”

The Marine Stewardship Council is currently considering certification of high-bycatch longline tuna and swordfish fleets that operate offshore of Florida in the U. S. Atlantic. MRAG Americas of Miami is the independent third-party certifier working on behalf of DayBoat Seafood, also of Miami. MRAG is conducting the public stakeholder meeting that kicks off the certification process, due for completion in Spring 2011.

From 2001 to 2008, the U. S. Atlantic tuna and swordfish fishery caught an estimated 632 leatherback and 506 loggerhead turtles. Leatherbacks have been listed as endangered and loggerheads as threatened for more than 30 years under the Endangered Species Act. Loggerheads are now proposed for uplisting to endangered by the U. S. government due to dramatic declines, due in large part to accidental hooking on longlines.

As a result of the BP Oil Spill, 70,000 sea turtle eggs, mostly loggerheads, are being relocated to the East Coast of Florida for incubation and release. The survival of this generation of sea turtles will rely on the safety of Florida’s waters and the Atlantic Ocean in order to survive and recover from the biggest environmental disaster in U. S. history.

“Allowing sea turtles to perish at the end of longline hooks and then to certify the fishery as sustainable is counterproductive to the aims of the Marine Stewardship Council and the health of the ocean,” said Shore. “Not only is the fishery deadly to sea turtles, but tuna and swordfish is harmful to your health because of mercury contamination.” The U.S. FDA warns mothers and children not to eat swordfish and to severely restrict tuna consumption. See www.GotMercury.org