Delays Rules to Protect
Endangered Sea Turtles And Whales
File Notice Against Fisheries Service
Over California Drift Gillnet Fishery
For immediate release:
August 2, 2001
Brendan Cummings, Center for Biological Diversity 510 848 5486
Todd Steiner, Sea Turtle Restoration Project 415 488 0370
organizations filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS) for its failure to protect endangered sea turtles
and marine mammals from drowning in large numbers in the California drift
gill net fishery for Thresher Shark and Swordfish.
In March of 2000,
the Sea Turtle Restoration Project/Turtle Island Restoration Network and
the Center for Biological Diversity, two California-based environmental
organizations, filed suit in federal Court to enjoin the NMFS from authorizing
this fishery until it has met its legal requirement to take action under
the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act
(MMPA) to greatly reduce the kill of these protected species.
Following this, the
NMFS issued a new Biological Opinion on October 23, 2000, that concluded
that issuance of MMPA permits and the continued operation of the fishery
would "jeopardize" the continued existence of the loggerhead
and leatherback sea turtles. In order to avoid "jeopardy," NMFS
must either close the fishery or find a "Reasonable and Prudent Alternative
NMFS stated that the
fishery could continue only if new regulations were promulgated by August
1, 2001 that would reduce capture and mortality of the protected species
through time and area closures for gillnet fishers.
Based on this premise,
the lawsuit was settled. Unfortunately, no such regulations have been
the Bush administration is turning back the clock on environmental protections
put in place by the previous administration-- this time in clear violation
of the law," said Todd Steiner, director of the Sea Turtle Restoration
Project. He continued, "In the process, they are pushing the critically
endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle one step closer to extinction."
In 1999, the fishery
illegally captured or killed humpback whales, fin whales, Northern elephant
seals, green sea turtles and olive ridley sea turtles, all protected under
the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and/or State
law. In addition, scores of dolphins (of three species), California sea
lions, and several critically endangered leatherback sea turtles were
has repeatedly violated the ESA and the MMPA. NMFS's failure to even take
the steps they themselves admit are necessary in their Biological Opinion
is clearly illegal." said Brendan Cummings, attorney for the Center
for Biological Diversity.
and loggerhead sea turtles of the Pacific are critically endangered and
their drowning in commercial fishing nets must stop, if we are to save
these giant and ancient creatures from extinction," said Todd Steiner,
Director of the California-based Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP).
"The continued, illegal drowning of sea turtles in gillnets is California's
hidden environmental crisis."
The California Drift
Gillnet Fishery for Thresher Shark and Swordfish is managed by the state
Department of Fish & Game, but much of the fishing effort occurs in
federal waters. Since at least 1990, NMFS has monitored this fishery due
to its high rate of bycatch. Approximately 100 boats participate in fishery.
Sharks and swordfish, the target of the fishery, are also declining. Last
year, NMFS banned the Atlantic drift gillnet fishery due to its high rate
of sea turtle and whale mortality and the State of Washington also banned
its drift gillnet fishery.
"The lack of
action taken by the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect endangered
sea turtles and whales is, unfortunately, what we have learned to expect
from the agency," said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological
Diversity. He continued, "Since NMFS has not done what the law requires
it to do, legal actions have become necessary to ensure the survival of
these magnificent animals."