The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an emergency closure of the bottom longline sector of the Gulf of Mexico reef fish fishery today in an effort to protect sea turtles from injury and death. The closure, effective May 18 to October 28 of this year, will prohibit bottom longline fishing gear in eastern Gulf waters shallower than 50 fathoms. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted in January to request that NOAA issue an emergency rule to take immediate action to protect threatened sea turtle populations that are caught and killed by this fishery. The Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) are currently developing a long-term solution that will take effect after the six month closure has ended.
Below is a statement from Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana, a leading organization in the fight to protect sea turtles in the Gulf.
Oceana applauds fast action by the Gulf Council and NOAA to protect threatened sea turtles in the Gulf.
This action demonstrates that the management process can work in favor of our oceans. Today's decision is not just a victory for sea turtles, but for the oceans.
Too many sea turtles are needlessly captured and killed by this fishery each year. The same fish targeted by this fishery can be caught using more turtle friendly fishing gear types, including vertical line or "bandit rig."
Oceana and other conservation organizations now look to NMFS, NOAA and the Gulf Council to develop a long-term solution that works. An amendment to the reef fish management plan that ensures protections for sea turtles in eastern Gulf turtle foraging areas must be adopted as soon as possible.
According to recent Government data, nearly 1,000 sea turtles were caught by bottom longlines in this fishery in 30 months. This is approximately ten times the federally authorized capture level for the entire fishery.
It is estimated that at least 782 of the nearly 1,000 sea turtles caught by the bottom longline sector of this fishery were loggerheads, a species listed as threatened with extinction under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).
According to NMFS, the high capture level of loggerhead sea turtles, coupled with a more than 40 percent decline in Florida nesting during the last decade, could threaten the survival of this population.
About the Bottom Longline Sector of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery:
The bottom longline sector operates by putting out miles of fishing line with baited hooks that sink to the ocean floor, where they intend to catch snapper and grouper. In their effort to catch reef fish, the fishery unintentionally captures, injures and drowns sea turtles.
About the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council:
The Gulf Council is one of eight regional Fishery Management Councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The Council prepares fishery management plans designed to manage fishery resources from where state waters end, out to the 200-mile limit of the Gulf of Mexico. These waters are also known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).