conservation on the West Coast of the USA
Primary author: Professor
Mr. Donald McIsaac
Executive Director, Pacific Fishery Management Council
7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 200
Portland, OR 97220-1384
Dear Mr. McIsaac:
At its March 5-10, 2006 meeting, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council
will take a final vote on proposals that, if implemented, will undermine
conservation measures protecting the critically endangered leatherback sea
turtle as well as seabirds, marine mammals and sharks and other fish by
allowing drift-gillnets and pelagic longlines to be used in areas along
the California and Oregon coastline in which these destructive gear types
are currently prohibited.
2001, areas north of Point Conception to an intersect with the Oregon
coast and out beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to 129° West
longitude have been closed to drift-gillnet fishing from August 15th
through November 15th in order to protect leatherback sea turtles which
seasonally inhabit these waters. Similarly, pelagic longline fishing
has been banned within 200 miles of the California coast for well over a
decade, and in March 2004 this ban was extended to the entire West Coast
EEZ for all pelagic longlining, and to the high seas beyond the EEZ for
West Coast-based shallow-set pelagic longlining.
The proposals under consideration by the PFMC would allow
drift-gillnets back into the seasonally closed area when leatherbacks are
present, as well as allow an “exempted” longline fishery in the EEZ
The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is at the top of
the list of species being driven to the brink of extinction in the Pacific
by the global expansion of industrial fishing. The Pacific leatherback
turtle’s nesting population has plummeted from 91,000 in 1980 to fewer
than 5,000 in 2002. Leatherback sea turtle populations are in decline
throughout their range. Leatherback sea turtles are listed as endangered
under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and critically endangered by the
World Conservation Union on the IUCN red list of threatened species.
Leading scientists warn that unless immediate and significant steps are
taken, the leatherback sea turtle, which has swum the oceans since the
time of the dinosaurs 100 million years ago, will soon become extinct.
Moreover, the plight of the leatherback sea turtle, the world’s largest
and most wide-ranging sea turtle, may foreshadow a host of extinction
events that may significantly alter the oceans’ ecosystem functions.
The current drift-gillnet and longline closures have provided a successful
working balance between the interests of fishers and the urgent need to
protect the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle. During the past
three years of the drift-gillnet closures, this fishery, which targets
swordfish, tuna and sharks, had no recorded takes of leatherback sea
turtles. Such successful time/area closures, which eliminate the overlap
of longline and drift gillnet fishing gear with the presence of
leatherback sea turtles, should serve as a successful model that should be
replicated elsewhere in the Pacific where the leatherback is at the
greatest risk of extinction.
Last year, 1,007 scientists from 97 countries and 281 non-governmental
organizations from 62 countries delivered a letter to the United Nations
urging it to implement a moratorium on harmful gillnet and longline
fishing in the Pacific. The current restrictions on the longline and
gillnet fisheries off California and Oregon are a model conservation
measure in the spirit of this statement that should be emulated not
The ban and time and area closures both demonstrate that the US is
complying with not only the UN but also best scientific practices to
protect our marine resources.
We, the undersigned, therefore urge the Pacific Fisheries Management
Council to do the following:
* Maintain the current ban on all pelagic longline fishing within the West
Coast U.S. EEZ and on shallow-set or swordfish longlining on the high seas
beyond the U.S. EEZ.
* Maintain the current time/area closures that prohibit the deployment of
drift-gillnet fishing gear in areas off the California and Oregon coasts
when leatherback sea turtles likely to be inhabiting these waters.
Signed by fifty scientists in addition to the letter's author, David
Professor of Biology
Dept. Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources
Cook College, Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8551
Founding Editor of Conservation Biology.