Public comments favouring protections received by Government number 2,200 to 1
Public comments received by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council about its March 9th final vote to allow drift gillnets, also known as "curtains of death," and longlines back into vast protected areas along the Pacific Coast expresses overwhelming public opposition to industry efforts to gut successful conservation measures that protected critically endangered leatherback sea turtles. By the close of the February 15th public comment period, the Council received comments at a ratio of about 2,200 to 1 not to proceed with the expansion of these two destructive fishing practices that injure and kill large numbers of sea turtles, marine mammals, seabirds and valuable non-target fish. In addition, a unique coalition of ten recreational fishing, animal welfare and marine conservation groups with about 9 million members are working to oppose the measure.
"It's time for the Council and NOAA Fisheries to listen to the public and enforce their mandate to protect the public interest" said Robert Ovetz, Ph.D., Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, "And the public interest is keeping leatherback sea turtles and other marine species from going extinct and prevent overfishing."
The United Nations banned driftnets on the high seas in 1991 and the US has followed with recent closures to large areas in US waters including the time and area closures along the Pacific. Since 2001, areas north of Point Conception to an intersect with the Oregon coast have been closed to drift gillnet fishing from August 15th through November 15th in order to protect endangered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles. During the past three years of this closure, this fishery, which targets swordfish with drift gillnet gear, has had no recorded takes of leatherback sea turtles. Longline fishing, which is also one of the main threats to leatherback sea turtles, was banned along the US West Coast in 2004.
Since 2002, 64 dolphins, whales, seals and sea lions have been killed by the drift gillnet fishery in the West Coast areas still open to gillnetting. Additionally, seabirds including Northern fulmars and Cassin's auklet have been injured or killed.
The proposed exemption would allow as many as two thirds of the remaining 36 drift-gillnet vessels and between 71 and 131 longline vessels into the closed areas.
"Drift-gillnet and longlines are subsidized unprofitable industries looking for a hand-out at the expense of endangered species like leatherback sea turtles, humpback whales and sharks. The public has spoken. It's time for the government to listen," added Ovetz.