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UN Agency to Vote on Saving Endangered Sea Turtles

Passage will Include Historic Proposed Fishing Limits
Forest Knolls, California—New proposed guidelines issued last December by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to address the plight of critically endangered Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles is set for a vote March 7-11. Specifically, the guidelines recommend that fisheries posing the greatest threats should be subjected to “temporary and spatially-limited controls.” The recommendation to limit fishing in certain areas is welcomed by environmentalists who urge the UN to specifically identify and take action on some of the hot spots of turtle-fishing interaction.

“The recommendation before the FAO that closures and restrictions are needed to save sea turtles from extinction is historic. However, there is no time to lose to put it into effect,” said Robert Ovetz, PhD, the Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “Time is running out. The number of nesting female leatherbacks has collapsed by 95% in the Pacific since 1980.”

The 26th session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries will take place in Italy from March 7-11. One of the items it will consider is Appendix E, Guidelines to Reduce Sea Turtle Mortality in Fishing Operations, in the Advanced Copy—Report of the Technical Consultation on Sea Turtles Conservation and Fisheries (COFI/2005/Inf.15, Appendix E, Bangkok, Thailand, 29 November-2 December 2004). In Appendix E can be found item “F. Other measures as appropriate for all fishing practices (i) Spatial and temporal control of fishing, especially in locations and during periods of high concentration of sea turtles.”

“Large areas of the Pacific need to be closed to destructive fishing practices such as industrial longline fishing,” Ovetz added. “The UN General Assembly and other UN institutions have acknowledged this.”

This call for closures echoes statements made by 705 scientists from 83 countries and representatives of 230 non-governmental organizations from 54 countries urging the UN to take immediate action to protect leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles by implementing a Pacific-wide moratorium on gillnets and longlines. Among the scientists who have signed the appeal include the famed biologist E. O. Wilson and oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

Nesting female Pacific leatherbacks has declined by 95% since 1980. A recent study in the scientific journal Ecology Letters estimates that worldwide 200,000 loggerheads and 50,000 leatherbacks are caught each year by longlines. Scientists have warned that Pacific leatherbacks could go extinct within the next 5-30 years unless immediate action is taken to reverse their slide into oblivion. One of those actions is to impose a Pacific wide moratorium on longline fishing. Other species are also significantly impacted as well such as billfish, marine mammals, sharks and seabirds. The black-footed albatross, also caught in large numbers by longline fishing, is also on the verge of extinction.

Resources

•The agenda for the 26th session of FAO COFI can be found at:
http://www.fao.org/fi/NEMS/events/detail_event.asp?event_id=24536
•A copy of the FAO proposed guidelines is available at: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2004/52421/article_52428en.html
•The scientist and NGO petitions are available at:
http://www.seaturtles.org/press_release2.cfm?pressID=247
•Review copies of the new documentary “Last journey for the leatherback?” are available
•Interviews with Dr. Sylvia Earle and Dr. Larry Crowder, expert on the impacts of longline fishing

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is an international marine environmental organization headquartered in Forest Knolls, CA and with offices in Costa Rica and Texas. The organization focuses on protecting and restoring marine wildlife in ways that address the needs of local communities. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project (www.seaturtles.org) is a project of Turtle Island Restoration Network, which also sponsors the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (www.spawnusa.org) to protect endangered coho salmon. See www.seaturtles.org and www.savetheleatherback.com for more information.