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Pacific loggerhead sea turtles at risk of extinction

New federal review supports our call for endangered listing for declining sea turtles along California and West Coast

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a new status review of loggerhead sea turtles late yesterday that shows their populations off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the U.S. are currently at risk of extinction. The findings presented in the NMFS report are a direct result of the two loggerhead sea turtles Endangered Species Act (ESA) petitions and pending lawsuit submitted by Turtle Island Restoration Network/Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Oceana, and Center for Biological Diversity. Based on this information, tje groups are calling on NMFS to immediately designate North Pacific loggerheads as a Distinct Population Segment (DPS), uplist both North Pacific and Northwest Atlantic loggerheads to “endangered,” designate critical habitat and take necessary actions to lead these populations to recovery. The full report is available at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/statusreviews.htm. All loggerhead populations have been listed as “threatened” under the ESA since 1978.

All loggerhead nesting in the North Pacific occurs in Japan. Turtles migrate across the entire Pacific, through the waters around Hawaii, to forage on pelagic red crabs off Baja California.. They come north with the warmer waters of El Nino years into Southern California. Thousand of Pacific loggerheads are caught each year in coastal fisheries off Japan, Mexico and by longline fisheries on the high seas. One study estimates that 30,000 loggerheads were caught throughout the Pacific in 2000 alone (Lewison et al. 2004).

The new NMFS analysis was conducted by the Loggerhead Biological Review Team (BRT), which is made up of 13 of the countries foremost sea turtle experts.

The BRT has identified the following nine loggerhead Discrete Population Segments (DPSs) distributed globally and assessed their status. Before this loggerhead sea turtles were treated as one large population and they were considered threatened, but not endangered.

(1) North Pacific Ocean DPS: currently at risk of extinction

(2) South Pacific Ocean DPS: currently at risk of extinction

(3) North Indian Ocean DPS: currently at risk of extinction

(4) Southeast Indo-Pacific Ocean DPS: currently at risk of extinction

(5) Southwest Indian Ocean DPS: not currently at immediate risk of extinction, the extinction risk is likely to increase in the foreseeable future.

(6) Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS: currently at risk of extinction

(7) Northeast Atlantic Ocean DPS: is at immediate risk of extinction.

(8) Mediterranean Sea DPS: is at immediate risk of extinction.

(9) South Atlantic Ocean DPS: is not currently at immediate risk of extinction, the extinction risk is likely to increase substantially in the foreseeable future.

Background

On Thursday May 28, 2009 Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sea Turtle Restoration Project filed a complaint in federal court stating that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act by not responding within 12 months to lawsuits asking for increased protections for threatened and endangered sea turtles. The current lawsuit is in response to three separate petitions dating back to 2007 calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service to 1) reclassify loggerhead turtles in the North Pacific as a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) with an endangered status and that critical habitat be designated, 2) reclassify loggerhead sea turtles in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean as a DPS with an endangered status and that critical habitat be designated and 3) designate critical habitat for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle of the U.S. West Coast in critical foraging grounds and migratory corridors.

Today’s findings shed new light on current fishery activities that catch and kill loggerhead sea turtles, including a pending decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service that would allow Hawaii-based longline fishing for swordfish to take almost 3 times more loggerhead sea turtles – from the current limit of 17 to up to 46 per year. The groups have pressured NMFS to deny the Hawaii fishery management plan that would allow increased take and mortality of the now endangered North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles.

831-917-6680 or sroberts@oceana.org