Olema, California – October 15 is Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day in California. The “critically endangered” Pacific leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) has experienced a catastrophic decline over the past two decades, and is on the verge of extinction due in part to industrial fishing methods off the coast of California and in Hawai’i.
Five years ago, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1776 into law and declared October 15th the official celebratory day for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles that swim off the coast of California. The Legislature acknowledged that Pacific leatherback sea turtles are “among the most imperiled of any sea turtle population in any ocean basin on Earth and that populations of the Pacific leatherback sea turtle, a 100-million-year-old species that outlived the dinosaurs, have declined by approximately 90 percent in the last 25 years.” Turtle Island Restoration Network championed this awareness-raising bill, which was sponsored by California Assemblymember Paul Fong.
Turtle Island Restoration Network continues to call for action to safeguard these gentle ocean giants. They are targeting the Hawaiian longline swordfish and tuna fisheries and the costly driftnet fishery off the coast of California, and solutions need to be found.
The Hawaiian longline fisheries consist of two fisheries, the shallow set longline fishery for swordfish and the deep set longline fishery for tuna. Both threaten Pacific leatherback sea turtles’ existence.
Turtle Island Restoration Network won a major victory for Pacific leatherbacks in 2001, with the implementation of the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area. The Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area prohibits drift gillnet fishing between August 15 and November 15 along the California and Oregon coasts from Point Sur to Lincoln City, out to the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The southern boundary extends at 45 degrees, then out to the 200-mile Economic Zone. The Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area has reduced the number of leatherback deaths in the fishery from 112 between 1990 and 2001; to near zero between 2001 and 2012.
“The giant Pacific leatherback is on the verge of extinction because they are drowning in alarming numbers in industrial driftnets and longline fishing gear– just to keep swordfish on the menu. These barbaric fishing methods are still allowed in California and must stop,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Turtle Island Restoration Network is targeting the fisheries through awareness campaigns, policy and litigation.
“An easy way for people to take action against these fisheries is to stop eating swordfish caught with longlines and driftnets,” said Cassie Burdyshaw, director of advocacy and policy at Turtle Island Restoration Network. “These fisheries use billions of hooks and thousands of miles of nets in the ocean to catch swordfish, but they also catch whales, dolphins, sharks, seabirds, and sea turtles, including the Pacific leatherback sea turtle. We’re urging people to boycott restaurants that continue to buy and sell unsustainably-caught swordfish.”
Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 200,000+ members and online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more than 25 years, Turtle Island Restoration Network has mobilized people to preserve oceans, restore rivers and streams, and protect the marine wildlife – from sea turtles to sharks – that call these blue-green waters home. SeaTurtles.org