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Turtle Island Restoration Network Denounces U.S. Decision to Increase Sea Turtle Deaths in Hawaii Longline Fishery

“I’m shocked that President Obama who is from Hawaii will allow more sea turtles to die in this wasteful fishery,” said Teri Shore, Program Director for Turtle Island Restoration Network, a non-profit that has been demanding better protections for sea turtles from industrial fisheries. “Every Pacific leatherback and loggerhead that we lose to a longline is a direct threat to the species’ survival and recovery from the brink of extinction.” See the Associated Press article.

“The US government is going to allow even more sea turtles to be injured and killed to provide US consumers with swordfish, a product that is tainted with high levels of mercury. This is what we experienced and learned to expect from the Bush Administration, but we ‘hoped’ for something better from the Obama administration.  It appears the fishing industry is still calling the shots when it comes to protecting oceans and human health,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and Executive Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Background:

Claiming that sea turtles can survive hooking in the mouth, fins and flippers on longlines set by the Hawaii-based swordfish fleet, the U. S. government has issued weak new fishing regulations that will:
    Triple the number of Pacific loggerhead sea turtles caught on longlines every year
    Remove all limits on the number of hooks to 4 million or more per year
    Allow near-extinct Pacific leatherback sea turtles to continue to be caught and killed in the fishery.

The weakening of protections for sea turtles in the fishery contradicts government findings from earlier this year that loggerheads are at risk of extinction due in large part to capture in longline fisheries. See loggerhead status review.  The action also conflicts with an Executive Order issued by President Obama to government agencies to make protecting our oceans and fisheries an immediate priority.

More than 50 percent of what’s caught in the Hawaii longline fishery is not swordfish, but sea turtles, humpback whales, false killer whales, seabirds and vulnerable fish species including sharks and big eye and yellow fin tuna.

A federal court previously closed the fishery down for four years due to excessive capture of sea turtles, but reopened in 2004 with requirements to use experimental circle hook technology and special bait that the government claimed would drastically reduce the injury and mortality of sea turtles. Turtle Island Restoration Network opposed the re-opening due to questions about the scientific integrity of the study that led to allowed fishing with circle hooks, and the fact that the technology was never tested in the Pacific.

However, even with the modified gear, the fishery was closed down early in March 2006.

In an unprecedented but legally required action, the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council requested the Secretary of Commerce to shut down the swordfish fishery before it exceeded its allowable “take” of critically endangered loggerhead sea turtles.

Fewer than 5,000 nesting western Pacific leatherbacks remain and only 1,500 North Pacific loggerheads still nest. Only about one in a thousand sea turtle hatchlings survive to the age of 30 years or more to return to their nesting beaches. With declines of more than 90 percent for these leatherbacks and 80 percent decline of the loggerheads, there is no scientific justification to increase the death toll for these species as they swim across the ocean.