Sea turtles get fishing relief
Environmental News Network
1st April 2004
The United States has banned longline swordfish fishing off its Pacific coast to save dwindling sea turtle populations. The new rules, released by the National Marine Fisheries Service, affect a 1,200- to 1,700-mile-wide swath of waters from Washington south to California.
The boats trail lines up to 50 miles long strung with sharp, baited hooks. Attracted by lights attached to the lines, curious turtles swallow the bait or inadvertently become snagged on the hooks. In the last 20 years, the global population of leatherback sea turtles has declined by 95 percent, with only 5,000 breeding females left in Pacific waters. Loggerhead turtles have suffered a similar fate. Both species are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
The two dozen west coast longliners displaced by the present ban plan to relocate to Hawaii. There, they will have to adopt new fishing gear which is supposed to reduce the turtle bycatch by 60 percent. With 2 billion hooks deployed annually in Pacific waters alone, urgent action is required worldwide to prevent sea turtles from being driven towards extinction.