Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Fishery Rule Could Benefit Sea Turtles - via Herp Digest

By Cameron Jaggard, Pew Charitable Trust, 5/7/13

Weighing up to 2,000 pounds, the leatherback is the largest sea turtle on Earth. Their wide ranging migratory patterns overlap with those of other severely depleted ocean wildlife, including western Atlantic bluefin tuna. Unfortunately, surface longlines fishing for yellowfin tuna and swordfish also catch and kill these and more than 80 other species accidentally, including sharks, marine mammals, blue marlin, and sailfish. More than half of the catch is thrown back and the vast majority of that discarded catch is dead. 

In an effort to protect bluefin spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are now working with commercial fishermen to determine if two highly selective fishing methods can provide a viable alternative to surface longlines. Research conducted to date indicates that 87 to 91 percent of the catch on these alternative gears is comprised of target catch of yellowfin tuna and swordfish. Furthermore, neither gear has yet interacted with any bluefin tuna or sea turtles in the Gulf. Oil spill restoration monies made available by BP could help pay to transition Gulf surface longline fishermen to these more selective gears and smaller, more economical, and efficient fishing vessels. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) also has a rare and important opportunity to help. The agency is developing a new bluefin rule that could ensure the long-term success of this gear transition program, help end the waste of bluefin and other species in the Gulf and Atlantic incidentally caught on surface longlines, and support increased fishing opportunities for selective bluefin fishermen. A prohibition on surface longlining in the Gulf and a strict annual limit on bluefin mortality in the Atlantic surface longline fishery could do just that. 

Sea turtles stand to benefit greatly, if these measures are implemented. This rule would eliminate an estimated 169 harmful interactions with endangered leatherback and threatened loggerhead sea turtles in the Gulf annually. A hard limit on bluefin mortality in the Atlantic surface longline fishery will also encourage more selective fishing practices that could further reduce the fishing gear's impact on protected marine life and encourage the rebuilding of sea turtles species that the U.S. has listed on the Endangered Species Act for more than three decades. 

NOAA Fisheries plans to release the bluefin proposed rule for public comment this summer. This comment period will provide the best opportunity for conservationists, fishermen, and other stakeholders to encourage NOAA Fisheries to issue a strong bluefin rule. Visitwww.PewEnvironment.org/GulfTuna or contact cjaggard@pewtrusts.org to learn how you can submit a comment.

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