By Todd Steiner
Director, Sea Turtle Restoration Project
More than 400 leading scientists and 100 organizations from around the globe, including the Animal Welfare Institute, are calling for a United Nations (U.N.) moratorium on pelagic longline and gillnet fishing in the Pacific Ocean to protect endangered sea turtles and other marine species.
Longlining and gillnetting are major factors in the decline of the Pacific leatherback turtle, for instance, which is predicted to go extinct in ten years if immediate action is not taken. It appears that the return of nesting leatherbacks to Pacific beaches this year was the worst on record. Scientists estimate that there are now fewer than 5,000 nesting female leatherbacks left in the Pacific Ocean down from 91,000 in 1980, a decline of 95%.
Commercial longline fishing involves a ship at sea pulling (literally) a long fishing line, sometimes up to 60 miles long with a thousand baited hooks. This fishing technique is indiscriminate and causes high by-catch of unintended marine species, including birds such as albatrosses who dive for the bait, are hooked, and tragically drown. Longlines are sometimes called the "landmines of the sea" because of their widespread arbitrary slaughter. Similarly, huge "gillnets" draped in the ocean swallow up thousands of unintended victims, including marine mammals who suffocate and die.
In an open letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, which appeared recently in The New York Times, noted scientists (among them Edward O. Wilson, Dr. Sylvia Earle, and AWI's good friend in Mexico, Homero Aridjis) alerted governments and fisheries managers across the globe to the worsening crises of our global fisheries' and the rapid decline of the Pacific leatherback sea turtle. (It can be viewed at http://www.seaturtles.org/pdf/scientistlttrad-final.pdf.)
"The decline of the leatherback in the last five years is nothing short of catastrophic, and it is imperative that the global community come together to eliminate the use of the most destructive forms of industrial fishing before it is too late," said Dr. Sylvia Earle, an Explorer-in-residence at National Geographic and esteemed marine expert. Dr. Larry Crowder, Duke University Marine Laboratory researcher, added, "tragic declines of leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles have been well documented in the Pacific,...and the impact of longline fishing on these and other marine species can't be understated."
A recent report to the Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that there are almost two billion hooks set per year by the longline fishing fleet. The United Nations and Kofi Annan must recognize that in order to save the endangered leatherbacks, as well as imperiled sharks, seabirds, and dolphins, we must stop these weapons of mass destruction from destroying our oceans. There are just too many hooks adrift in the Pacific to give these threatened and endangered species a fighting chance for survival.
U.S. Courts previously have taken important steps to protect embattled marine species by closing the Hawaiian swordfish longlining fleet altogether and restricting the Hawaiian tuna longlining and California drift gill net fleets to times and areas that reduce turtle catch. Now it's time for the rest of the world to act.
Get involved in this urgent campaign: www.seaturtles.org/actionalertdetails.cfm?actionAlertID=43.