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U.S. Government Proposes Endangered Status for Loggerhead Sea Turtles in Pacific and Atlantic Oceans

Stronger Protections Result from Environmentalists’ Petitions and Lawsuit

San Francisco – Disappearing loggerhead sea turtles that swim across the Pacific to California’s coast from Japan will be getting stronger protections from fisheries and other human threats to prevent their extinction. Today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) jointly published a proposal to “up-list” North Pacific and Northwest Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles to endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The new regulation also recognizes for the first time a total of nine separate loggerhead populations around the world, seven proposed to be listed as endangered and two threatened. Currently the loggerhead sea turtles is listed by the U.S. as threatened globally based on a  July 28, 1978 ESA rulemaking. The species is considered endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Public comment on the rule will be accepted until June 14, 2010.  Read the proposed rule.

“Loggerheads will disappear from the Pacific without stronger protections,” said Todd Steiner, Executive Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) of Forest Knolls, CA. “Endangered listing should trigger an immediate halt to excessive loggerhead capture in the Hawaii swordfish fleet and all U. S. fisheries.”

The new regulations were issued in response to an ESA lawsuit settled with TIRN and its allies last year. If adopted the rules will:
– designate North Pacific loggerheads (which nest in Japan but forage in Southern California and Baja) as a distinct population and strengthen their status from threatened to endangered under the ESA.
– designate Western North Atlantic loggerheads (which nest in Florida and Georgia) as a distinct population and  strengthen their status from threatened to endangered under the ESA.
-designate seven other loggerhead populations as endangered and threatened around the world.
– consider increased protections in key loggerhead nesting, breeding, and feeding habitat through the designation of critical habitat for these endangered species.

Background

The Hawaii-based longline fleet was expanded in 2010 and legal loggerhead capture tripled to 47 per year in 2010 even though they are at risk of extinction. TIRN has since filed a lawsuit on the Hawaii expansion.

The Florida bottom longline fishery was recently shut down to excess loggerhead turtle capture, but re-opened with weak protections that will allowed for continued harm to this endangered population. TIRN has also filed suit to protect these sea turtles. Florida beaches, which host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic, have seen a decline in nesting of more than 40 percent in the past decade.

Loggerhead sea turtles in the North Pacific Ocean are among the most imperiled of any sea turtle population in any ocean basin on Earth. Their populations have declined by 80 percent in recent decades and now number fewer than 1,000 nesting females each year.

The primary threats to North Pacific loggerheads is drowning from entanglement in longline and gillnet fishing gear, according to the  2009 status review of loggerhead sea turtles worldwide by the Fisheries Service. It found that both North Pacific and Northwest Atlantic loggerheads “currently at risk of extinction.”

Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 10,000 members work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org.