On March 9th, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council will take its final vote to allow drift gillnets, also known as “curtains of death,” and longlines back into vast protected areas along the Pacific Coast. Today, a statement released by 133 scientists from 24 countries (74 from the U.S.) are urging the Council not to proceed with the expansion of these two destructive fishing practices that injure and kill large numbers of sea turtles, marine mammals, seabirds and valuable non-target fish.

“Getting rid of conservation measures, such as closing small areas of the ocean to drift-gillnet and longline fishing for certain brief time periods, that successfully protect critically leatherback sea turtles does not make sense” said James Spotila, Ph.D., Betz Chair Professor of Environmental Science at Drexel University who runs a leatherback nesting project in Costa Rica and is one of the signatories of the statement. “We would be abandoning our responsibility to do everything we can to prevent them from slipping into the oblivion of extinction.”

“When my daughter grows up she’ll look back and wonder how we ever allowed so many millions of animals to be killed just because they got in the way of our seafood meal. I want to be able to look her in the eye and tell her about the sustainable fishing practices we supported,” added Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences, who is another signatory to the statement.

The United Nations banned driftnets on the high seas in 1991 and the US has followed with recent closures to large areas in US waters including the time and area closures along the Pacific. Since 2001, areas north of Point Conception to an intersect with the Oregon coast have been closed to drift gillnet fishing from August 15th through November 15th in order to protect endangered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles. During the past three years of this closure, this fishery, which targets swordfish with drift gillnet gear, has had no recorded takes of leatherback sea turtles. Longline fishing, which is also one of the main threats to leatherback sea turtles, was banned along the US West Coast in 2004.

Since 2002, 64 dolphins, whales, seals and sea lions have been killed by the drift gillnet fishery in the West Coast areas still open to gillnetting. Additionally, seabirds including Northern fulmars and Cassin’s auklet have been injured or killed.

The proposed exemption would allow as many as two thirds of the remaining 36 vessels in the drift gillnet fishery into the closed areas.

• The scientist letter can be found at:
• For information about the Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting go to: http://www.pcouncil.org/bb/2005/bb1105.html
• For a review copy of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s new documentary film Last Journey for the Leatherback? contact Robert Ovetz, PhD.