Loggerhead turtles to gain protection
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service jointly announced last week that they want to designate loggerhead sea turtles as an endangered species in the North Pacific and six other world regions.
The proposed "up-listing" of the loggerhead turtle from its "threatened" designation under the Endangered Species Act will be published today in the Federal Register, and public comments will be accepted until June 14, the agencies said.
The Turtle Island Restoration Network issued a news release calling for "the immediate halt to increased capture and killing of Pacific loggerheads in the Hawai'i-based longline fishery."
"The imminent listing as endangered should trigger an immediate halt to excessive loggerhead capture in the Hawai'i swordfish fleet and all U.S. fisheries," Todd Steiner, Turtle Island's executive director, said in the release.
There will be no changes in rules regarding human interactions with the turtles before the yearlong public process of reclassifying the loggerhead turtles from threatened to endangered is completed, fisheries spokeswoman Connie Barclay said.
The California-based Turtle Island, the Center for Biological Diversity, and KAHEA (the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance) sued the Fisheries Service last year over its proposal to increase the number of interactions it allowed between Hawai'i-based longline fishermen and loggerhead turtles.
Fisheries Service rules that went into effect Jan. 11 allow longline fishers as a group to "take" or interact with up to 46 loggerhead turtles per year. The former annual limit was interaction with 17 loggerheads.
"Take" in Fisheries Service terms is a count of any animals hooked, snared or otherwise affected by fishing practices. It includes animals that are disentangled and survive and those that die.
The conservation groups argue that estimates of the survival of turtles that were hooked and set free alive by fishermen are overly optimistic.
The Fisheries Service said in its Dec. 10 Federal Register posting of the new rules that the survival estimate errs on the side of caution and of 46 turtle interactions, about three deaths are expected. The agency wrote that such a death rate would not affect the survival of the species any more than natural causes.