Hanging by a Thin Line
To protect turtles, state legislators pass a resolution to ban long-line fishing. The federal fisheries council may not care.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
A modern-day battle of state versus federal rights is underway and the outcome may determine the fate of a frequent visitor to the Monterey Bay. Right now, the feds have the power, and a bystander has everything to lose. The innocent is a leatherback turtle, an animal estimated to have survived in our oceans for 100 million years. This turtle is a great free swimmer known for its long ocean journeys and its voracious appetite for jellyfish. But to its detriment, the leatherback is facing a difficult foe and has become tangled up with commercial fishermen and the federal government that regulates their industry. In response to continued efforts by the non-profit Sea Turtle Restoration Project, state legislators hope to do something. Last week, lawmakers passed a joint resolution — albeit nonbinding — urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to deny permits to commercial long-line fishermen who fish for swordfish. Long-line fishermen bait their fishing lines, often extending more than 20 miles, with thousands of barbed fishing hooks. When they reel in the lines fishermen often find an unwanted by-catch hooked to the lines: leatherback turtles, an endangered species. At the current rate of decline, leatherback turtles could be extinct in 10 to 25 years, according to published scientific reports. To date, the federal agencies responsible for managing West Coast fisheries have prohibited long-line fishing from within 200 miles of the coast. But if the regional management council and fishermen get their way, that policy will change and introduce long-line fishing within 50 miles of shore. The state Senate voted 28-12 and the Assembly voted 52-22 in favor of the resolution banning the practice. Representing the Monterey Bay region, Sen. Abel Maldonado and Assembly members Anna Caballero and John Laird supported the measure, while Sen. Jeff Denham did not. The battle to protect the turtles goes back years. In 2003, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service, a federal agency charged with managing the nation's fisheries, violated the Endangered Species Act by authorizing long-line fishing off California without analyzing the fishery's impacts on endangered sea turtles and seabirds. The regional fisheries council awaits approval for opening up the West Coast to long-line fishing — the National Marine Fisheries Services will make the final call. http://info.sen.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/asm/ab_0051-0100/ajr_62_vote_20080702_0253PM_sen_floor.html http://seaturtles.live.radicaldesigns.org/downloads/LL%20EEZ%20EFP%20Comment_1.pdf Sea Turtle Restoration Project http://www.seaturtles.org/article.php?id=1129 http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/search/index.html?sa.x=0&sa.y=0&sa=Search&cx=006464995654994533830%3Ar7roh49uarm&cof=FORID%3A11&redirect=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.biologicaldiversity.org%2Fsearch%2Findex.html&q=leatherback+turtles+ninth+circuit California legislature—2007–08 regular session Assembly Joint Resolution No. 62 Introduced by Assembly Member Leno (Coauthors: Assembly Members Berg, Evans, Hancock, Jones, and Nava) (Coauthor: Senator Wiggins) May 21, 2008 Assembly Joint Resolution No. 62—Relative to West Coast sea turtle protection. legislative counsel’s digest AJR 62, as introduced, Leno. West Coast sea turtle protection. This measure would request the National Marine Fisheries Service to delay consideration of, or deny, the swordfish longline exempted fishing permit for a specified period of time. The measure would request the National Marine Fisheries Service to defer consideration of efforts to introduce shallow-set longline fishing off the California coast for that specified period of time. WHEREAS, California is a coastal state that is dedicated to protection of our ocean resources, fisheries, and marine wildlife; and WHEREAS, Sea turtles, fish, and marine mammals are a central component of California’s natural heritage and marine biodiversity; and WHEREAS, According to the National Marine Fisheries, the waters off the central California coast are a critical foraging area for Pacific leatherback sea turtles; and WHEREAS, According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the waters off the California coast are a significant migratory corridor and foraging area for North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles; and WHEREAS, Scientists have determined that the populations of Pacific leatherback and North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles have declined by approximately 95 percent and 80 percent to 86 percent, respectively, in the last 25 years; and WHEREAS, Scientists predict that the death of more than 1 percent of the adult female Pacific leatherback sea turtle population each year could lead to the extinction of the species, making the catch of small numbers of Pacific leatherback sea turtles a serious threat to their future survival; and WHEREAS, Scientists estimate that the Pacific leatherback sea turtle could become extinct within 10 to 30 years if existing by-catch rates are not reduced; and WHEREAS, Scientists predict that current population trends indicate a high probability that North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles will be effectively extinct within approximately 50 years; and WHEREAS, Injury and mortality from interactions with longline fishing gear is a direct contributor to the rapid decline, and potential extinction, of Pacific leatherback and North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles; and WHEREAS, Data collected from fishing vessels have revealed that shallow-set longlines are targeting swordfish snare turtles at a rate 10 times greater than deep-set longlines; and WHEREAS, The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering approval of an exempted fishing permit (EFP) to authorize shallow-set longlining to target swordfish within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the California coast where the State of California has prohibited this activity since 1977; and WHEREAS, The proposed EFP would allow longline fishing inside the Pacific leatherback sea turtle conservation area, an area that has been seasonally closed to fishing to protect Pacific leatherback sea turtles; and WHEREAS, In 1992, the Department of Fish and Game banned all pelagic longline fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the California coast; and WHEREAS, The California Coastal Commission completed a consistency certification of a similar exempted fishing permit in 2007 and unanimously voted to deny certification; and WHEREAS, The National Marine Fisheries Service is also considering authorizing the placement of a shallow-set longline fishery to target swordfish on the high seas (High Seas Swordfish Fishery) off the West Coast of the United States in an area known to be used by Pacific leatherback and North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles; and WHEREAS, Longlining for swordfish has been prohibited on the high seas off the West Coast of the United States since 2004 when the federal government determined that by-catch of North Pacific loggerheads by the High Seas Swordfish Fishery would violate the federal Endangered Species Act’s jeopardy prohibition; and WHEREAS, A high seas swordfish fishery off the West Coast of the United States will also result in the intentional and incidental capture of Yellowfin, Bigeye, and Albacore tuna, which populations are already considered overfished or are experiencing overfishing by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) or US Stock Assessments or both; and WHEREAS, On December 27, 2007, the National Marine Fisheries Service accepted a petition to analyze whether California’s waters should be designated as a critical habitat area for the endangered Pacific leatherback turtle; and WHEREAS, On November 16, 2007, the federal government announced it was considering a petition to list the North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles found off the West Coast of the United States as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act; and WHEREAS, The federal Endangered Species Act requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to give highest priority to the protection of threatened and endangered species; now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Assembly and the Senate of the State of California, jointly, That the Legislature of the State of California acknowledges the severe decline of Pacific leatherbacks and North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle populations and supports efforts to recover and preserve these populations; and be it further Resolved, That the Legislature of the State of California requests the National Marine Fisheries Service to delay consideration of, or deny, the swordfish longline exempted fishing permit in the West Coast Exclusive Economic Zone, until Pacific leatherback sea turtle critical habitat is established, the federal status of the North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle is clarified, and critical habitat is designated for the North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle should it be uplisted to “endangered”; and be it further Resolved, That the Legislature of the State of California requests that the National Marine Fisheries Service defer consideration of any efforts to introduce shallow-set longline fishing off the California coast, both inside and outside the EEZ, until Pacific leatherback sea turtle critical habitat is established, the federal status of the North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle is clarified, and critical habitat is designated for the North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle, if it is designated as “endangered”; and be it further Resolved, That the Chief Clerk of the Assembly transmit copies of this resolution to the President and Vice President of the United States, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and to each Senator and Representative from California in the Congress of the United States. http://info.sen.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/asm/ab_0051-0100/ajr_62_vote_20080702_0253PM_sen_floor.html http://www.gotmercury.org/downloads/ajr_62_bill_20080521_introduced.pdf http://www.earthjustice.org/our_work/victory/federal_appeals_court_rules_californiabased_longline_fishery_violates_endangered_species_act.html