Saturday, August 15, 2009

Regulators curb longline fishing in Gulf of Mexico to protect sea turtles

By ALLISON WINTER of Greenwire

Federal regulators voted last night to impose tough new restrictions on the commercial longline fishing fleet in the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to protect marine turtles.

The new fishery-management plan would close certain areas, restrict fishing to boats that have brought in large catches in the past and reduce the number of hooks that can be used during fishing trips.

Commercial fishing representatives said the changes would cut the longline fleet in half.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's approval of the closure last night in Alabama sends the plan to the National Marine Fisheries Service for a final OK.

Longliner fleets string miles of line with thousands of hooks. They catch about two-thirds of the commercial grouper served in restaurants and sold at seafood counters. The practice has come under fire in the past year since a federal report found it kills more protected loggerhead turtles than previously thought. The report estimated that longliners snared nearly 1,000 turtles between July 2006 and December 2008 -- well above the permitted rate of 114 per three years.

The council temporarily shut down the longline fishery earlier this summer, and environmental groups sued the federal government in an effort to force more stringent protections for turtles. A new federal report this week found that U.S. loggerhead populations are at risk of extinction.

Environmentalists called the new fishing restrictions a "victory" for the loggerhead.

"[The] vote is a signal from the council that it's possible to craft fisheries management plans to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles while maintaining viable commercial fisheries," Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana, said in a statement. "While Oceana will continue to support additional protections for loggerheads, today's action constitutes a truly significant effort by the council." …

Regulators Curb Longline Fishing in Gulf of Mexico to Protect Sea Turtles

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