Suit says feds not protecting turtles
By David Royse
The Ledger Online
The Associated Press
23rd June 2004
Environmental groups said Tuesday they plan to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service for allegedly failing to protect certain sea turtles from entangling fishing lines.
Longline fishing -- a practice where fishermen set many hooks on lines that sometimes are miles long -- leads to "needless injury and deaths of hundreds of threatened and endangered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles" in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic, the groups claim.
The National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledges turtles can die on longlines, and says it is working to reduce the hazard.
But the agency says that the number of turtle deaths caused by longlines remains unclear. It says perhaps as many as 90 percent of turtles that get entangled on longlines are released alive, and their survival rate isn't known.
Environmentalists estimate nearly 1,000 leatherback turtles were captured in 2002 by longlines.
The groups planning the lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation.
The environmental groups cite a biological opinion put out by the agency itself in 2001 that determined that continued allowance of longline fishing jeopardized the survival of the two turtle species.
The group says the level of loggerhead captures exceeded federal limits by 40 percent.
A spokeswoman for the NMFS, Susan Buchanan, said the agency has been working since 2001 to try to get fishermen to switch the type of bait and hooks they use.
"Along with new safe handling and release protocols, the U.S. . . . longline fleet is becoming more turtle-friendly," Buchanan said.