The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council voted in favor of a compromise agreement this morning put together in recent days by Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, and the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Bottom Longline Fishing fleet aimed at reducing the often times fatal interactions between threatened loggerhead sea turtles and commercial fishing gear. With this agreement, the fishermen will be able to continue fishing, but areas of the Gulf where the majority of the interactions have taken place will now be off-limits to the fleet.
"Fishermen do not want to kill threatened sea turtles. And no one wants to see fishermen be put out of business. This agreement signifies a willingness for different interest groups to come together to find solutions that consider the best interests of both the turtles and the fishing fleet," explained Vicki Cornish, Ocean Conservancy's vice president of marine wildlife conservation. "The agreement approved today not only helps to forge a way forward on what has been a very contentious issue, but also lays a solid foundation for our groups to work together in the future for better fisheries, safer and better gear to protect turtles, and a healthier Gulf of Mexico."
"A more extensive closure would have resulted in permanent damage to the commercial fleet. Our industry is already looking at an emergency closure this summer, and we would not have been able to sustain another blow like that. We need partners that will help find lasting solutions," said Bobby Spaeth, Executive Director of the Southern Offshore Fishing Association. "Both Ocean Conservancy and Oceana were willing to work with us to help solve this problem. When the opportunity to partner with groups that do not often see eye-to-eye comes along and it works this well, it makes a powerful point in itself."
Oceana Senior Campaign Director Dave Allison continued "Our objective is to save from extinction the threatened and endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and other waters of the United States. This is what the Endangered Species Act calls for. We look forward to working with fishermen and fishing communities to find productive solutions to resolve the threats to the turtles. While this is a very important first step in this process, Oceana is committed to continuing our efforts with our conservation and fishing partners to bring this proposal to completion at the earliest possible time."
In brief, the agreement approved today by the Council as a Preferred Alternative under Amendment 31 calls for a closure of bottom longline fishing in the Eastern Gulf out to 35 fathoms for the summer months of June, July, and August, and a limitation on the number of boats allowed into the fishery. Final action on turtle protections will be taken by the National Marine Fisheries Service after opportunity for the public to comment on these measures.