Past, Present and Future
Fish Eye News
Oct. 2010 Archive
On May 15, 2010, North Carolina implemented new restrictions on the use of large-mesh gill nets in coastal waters for the protection of threatened and endangered sea turtles.
The regulations followed nearly a year of events — starting with increased federal observer coverage of the fishery in Core Sound and ending with a lawsuit settlement agreement — where the issue of gill net interactions with sea turtles took center stage in state fisheries management.
It was not the first time a North Carolina fishery felt a tap from the long arm of the Endangered Species Act. And it likely will not be the last time those fingers point this way.
“Any number of North Carolina fisheries interact with sea turtles,” said Louis Daniel, director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. “As the federal government continues with its strategy for sea turtle conservation, and as sea turtle populations recover, attention may shift to some of those fisheries, such as pound nets and, eventually, even hook-and-line.”
Under a National Marine Fisheries Service plan — Strategy for Sea Turtle Conservation and Recovery in Relation to Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fisheries — the federal government is evaluating marine fisheries interactions with sea turtles on a gear-by-gear basis to prioritize them for observer coverage, gear modification research and possible regulatory action.
“We know in general that certain gears have a greater likelihood of having an impact than others,” said Alexis Gutierrez, marine policy specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources.
Under the Endangered Species Act, it is illegal for anyone to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect or to attempt to engage in any such conduct with any species listed as threatened or endangered, except by permit. Permits are only issued for scientific purposes, to enhance the propagation or survival of the species or to allow limited incidental take in an otherwise lawful activity.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has the lead responsibility for conservation and recovery of sea turtles in the marine environment.
The National Marine Fisheries Service began developing the Strategy for Sea Turtle Conservation and Recovery in 2001 by compiling all it knows about sea turtle distribution, bycatch, fisheries effort, existing regulations and other information into a geographical information system database. Based on this information, the agency prioritized gears for development of management measures.
Highest priority went to the trawl fisheries with the idea that it would probably go next to the gill net fisheries, Gutierrez said.
“We are, of course, concerned about all interactions with sea turtles,” Gutierrez said.
But there is less information available about the impacts of interactions occurring in some fisheries, such as the recreational hook and line fisheries, she said.
“We are moving forward to address those known issues where we do have data to indicate a significant impact on sea turtles, such as trawls, longlines and gill nets,” Gutierrez said. “As more information becomes available, we will work with our state partners to identify possible mitigation solutions across all fisheries impacting sea turtles.”
The focus on trawl fisheries actually predates the agency’s strategic plan.
Research on gear modifications for shrimp trawls began in the 1970s, and regulations requiring TEDs (turtle excluder devices) in shrimp trawls took effect in the early 1990s.
At about the same time as the agency started developing its sea turtle strategy, it started posting an Annual Determination in the Federal Register, setting fisheries prioritized for observer coverage under the Endangered Species Act.