Victory! The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has ordered a 6-month emergency closure of the bottom longline fishery in the Gulf of Mexico to protect sea turtles from injury and death. Unfortunately, the scenario leading up to the closure, mirrors the same pattern environmentalists have faced for the past eight years: action was not taken until after Turtle Island and other groups filed a lawsuit to prevent the carnage from continuing.
Nearly a month ago, environmentalists presented NMFS with its own data indicating that the fishery was catching loggerhead turtles at more than eight times the number of sea turtles authorized previously in a 2005 biological opinion and the government was failing to act as it is required under the Endangered Species Act. When NMFS failed to act, we went to Court. Only then did NMFS agree to close down the fishery while it tries to solve the problem.
This issue came to a head while the Obama administration was still putting together its new team at NMFS and its parent agency the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While the environmental community has strong hopes that the newly appointed head of NOAA, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, will chart a new course for ocean protection, the jury is still out.
What we do know is that the powerful seafood and fishing lobby hasn’t gone away, and we will need to continue to be vigilant and vocal to convince the new administration to create a sustainable ocean policy.