Saturday, 25 August 2012

"Delisting Honu is Difficult Call - Our View- Endangered Species Act" - via Herp Digest

Editorial Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Saturday 8/4/12,.

"Few of Hawaii's aquatic creatures hold the allure of the green sea turtle. For locals and visitors alike, there's an elemental thrill at the sight of gentle honu popping their heads above the water or nibbling seaweed on nearshore reefs. Along Kamehameha Highway, they cause traffic jams as drivers pull over to see them feed near Laniakea Beach on the North Shore. They've even become an icon of sorts, appearing on everything from placemats to earrings.

Perhaps their popularity comes from their increasing numbers: Recent studies have documented a healthy growth in the Hawaiian population of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), with one study showing an annual increase of 5.7 percent since the 1970's.  This is not the case everywhere. The breeding populations in Florida and the Pacific Coast of Mexico are considered endangered. And in the rest of the species range, including the Hawaiian Islands, the turtle is considered threatened.

As a threatened species the green turtle in Hawaiian waters has enjoyed the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act. But as its population grows, the turtle's threatened species status is becoming, well, threatened.

The Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, citing the population studies, has petitioned the federal government to remove that status in two stages: first, by classifying the Hawaiian turtle population as a "discrete population segment," distinguishing it from other green turtle populations; and second, by delisting the Hawaiian turtles.

The association's petition was drafted and edited by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery management Council, an agency that has often clashed with environment groups over conservation rules, including restrictions on longline fishing to protect leatherback and loggerhead turtles. But commercial interests don't appear to be at issue here. There is little evidence that the green turtles' protected status has done harm to recreational and commercial fishing.

Rather, the association says a delisting would return responsibility for the honu to the state and its citizens, including Native Hawaiians and cultural practitioners. Such a change in management would raise some new possibilities and difficult questions: Should Native Hawaiians, however they are defined, be allowed to resume the traditional harvesting of honu? Should rules against the incidental hooking or netting of honu be relaxed, or should the population be protected as closely as it is now?

The National Marine Fisheries Service will consider whether the scientific evidence justifies a delisting, a process that could take more than a year. Regardless of the outcome, however, it's hard to justify a situation that would leave the green sea turtle with the same status as most other aquatic life in Hawaiian waters--open to indiscriminate harvesting.  The association doesn't want that, and neither should anyone else. It has taken years for the turtle population to recover. As an aumakua, it has cultural and historical significance. And it is certainly far more valuable as a living creature, enjoyed by countless ocean visitors, than as a source of meat."

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