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UN Report: Shut Down Fisheries to Save Sea Turtles

Repeats Earlier Call for Fisheries Closures and Reductions in Effort and Capacity
Forest Knolls, California—A new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has repeated the recommendation of an earlier panel of experts that immediate attention be given to the plight of critically endangered Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles. Among recommendations to address the threat of extinction of leatherback and loggerheads, the report recommended that fisheries posing the greatest threats should be closed, fishing capacity and effort reduced and financial support be directed towards developing countries to support conservation efforts. The FAO is meeting from 29 November to 2 December in Bangkok, Thailand to consider these recommendations.

“If the FAO has the courage to act on its own recommendation, we could prevent the extinction of a species,” said Robert Ovetz, PhD, the Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “The single most important action the FAO can take is supporting a Pacific-wide moratorium on destructive longline fishing,” he added.

This call for closures echoes statements made by 622 scientists from 54 countries and representatives of 173 non-governmental organizations from 35 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 5-20 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.

“Unfortunately, the report places the responsibility for implementing these closures and reductions in effort and capacity on the regional fisheries management organizations rather than endorsing the need for a Pacific-wide moratorium,” says Ovetz. “This will help neither sea turtles nor the 4.4 million other animals caught and killed by longlines in the Pacific every year. We need a single multilateral commitment to implement these closures,” Ovetz added.

Two weeks ago, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project released “Pillaging the Pacific,” a report that estimated that about 4.4 million sharks, billfish, whales, dolphins, sea birds, and other marine species are maimed and killed by longlines each year in the Pacific alone. Closing these destructive fisheries will also protect these species.

In fact, these regional fisheries management organizations only cover a small fraction of our vast oceans, leaving about 60% unregulated. Because the threat facing sea turtles is global, urgent global solutions are needed.

Resources

•A copy of the FAO analysis is available at: downloads/Backgrounder.FAO.STRP.pdf
•The scientist and NGO petitions are available at:
downloads/master_UNscientistltr_4_doc.pdf
and downloads/master_NGOltr_3_doc.pdf
•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.