Loggerheads and Longlines - Oceana USA
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December 15, 2008

Loggerheads and Longlines

As we reported back in October, bottom longlines in the Gulf reef fish fishery caught nearly 1,000 threatened loggerhead sea turtles in just 18 months — that’s eight times the federally authorized capture level for the entire fishery.This longline fishery operates by putting out miles of fishing line with baited hooks that sink to the ocean floor where they catch snapper and grouper, along with sea turtles.Last week, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council held a meeting in Florida to solicit public input about developing regulations to reduce the bycatch and mortality of sea turtles in this fishery.Oceana representatives attended the meeting, along with commercial and recreational fishermen and other interested parties.As senior campaign director Dave Allison told the Beaumont Enterprise, “What’s happened is the loggerhead sea turtles tend to feed and forage in the areas in and around the reefs, which are the same areas where some target species of fish – snappers and groupers – also tend to forage. There aren’t a lot of areas where turtles share foraging ground with fish, but where they do it appears it is pretty difficult to convince the turtles not to be feeding on the bait (used by bottom longline fishermen).”The turtles are attracted by baited hooks, and when they are caught by the longline hooks, they are unable to rise to the surface for air. The first meeting was to give everyone the opportunity to speak their minds. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet in January to continue discussing this issue and will make a decision in April on what should be done.Oceana is calling on NMFS to immediately increase observer coverage in the fishery to improve the data available to help solve the problem, and to work with stakeholders to develop and immediately implement a plan to reduce sea turtle takes to levels at or below the current federally authorized level. If a viable solution cannot be found in the short term to reduce takes to these levels, the fishery should be closed until this goal can be achieved.