Swordfishing is a Threat to Human Health and Leatherback Sea Turtles
Chanting “it’s not too late to get swordfish off your plate,” about 50 people of all ages dressed in colorful turtle costumes marched through the busy streets of Fishermen’s Wharf in San Francisco on Saturday, October 25th, 2003. On the occasion of National Family Health Week, the festive protest drew the connection between the risk of mercury poisoning from swordfish and the slaughter of leatherback sea turtles from longline fishing for swordfish.

Organized by the Bay Area-based Sea Turtle Restoration Project, the lively parade weaved between thousands of tourists and store employees to alert them to the dangers of swordfish to both consumers and sea turtles. Referring to STRP’s recent successful petition campaign that convinced Red Lobster to drop swordfish from the menus of all its North American restaurants, protesters called for “Mercury off my dish, we don’t want no more swordfish”.

Swordfish contains mercury levels that are considered unsafe for consumption for children and women of child-bearing age
by the US Food and Drug Administration, and are 500 percent higher than levels considered safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency. “We are out here to help people make the link between their seafood consumption, their health and the health of the oceans,” said Andy Peri, Marine Species Campaigner for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and one of the march’s organizers.

Swordfish is caught using industrial longlines, an indiscriminate fishing method that is responsible for high levels of incidental kills of sea turtles, sea birds, whales, dolphins, porpoises and countless other marine species. “Longlines are depleting the oceans at unprecedented levels,” said Dr. Robert Ovetz also a marine species campaigner for Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “If longline fishing is not stopped we will see Pacific leatherback sea turtle becoming extinct over the next 10 years”, he says.

Identifying industrial longline fishing as the primary culprit, the parading sea turtles were caught on a longline connected to a miniature fishing boat labeled “Corporate Fishing Industry, Inc.” In addition to injuring and slaughtering about 4 million endangered species annually, unregulated industrial high seas longline fishing has also caused the near collapse of some swordfish and tuna fisheries.

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is a party to a lawsuit that has persuaded the California Attorney General to enforce Prop 65 warnings at fish counters in supermarkets throughout the state. The postings warn consumers of the risk of mercury poisoning from the consumption of swordfish and other predatory fish. In 1999, another STRP lawsuit successfully shut down the territorial waters around Hawai’i to longline swordfishing.