Published October 26, 2007 03:02 PM

New England Rescinds Protections for Threatened Atlantic Sea Turtles

Wakefield, MA – The New England Fishery Management Council yesterday voted to rescind protections for threatened and endangered sea turtles, many of which are caught in scallop dredges in New England and mid-Atlantic waters. 

The Council voted to remove seasonal restrictions on scallop dredging in the elephant Trunk Access Area east of New Jersey. These restrictions were established to keep loggerhead and other turtles from being entangled, crushed and drowned when they are swept up by industrial-sized scallop dredges.

The New England Council also chose to reject a proposed seasonal closure to fishermen of an area east of the Delmarva peninsula. 

Under current New England Fishery Management Council rules, scallop boats cannot access the area during September and October, the months when sea turtles are common in the area, to reduce the chances that turtles will be caught in dredges. This is a commonsense approach to reduce the threats of scallop dredges on turtles. The scallops will remain there and be even fatter on November first,” said David Allison, campaign director for ocean conservation group Oceana.

The Council opted to rely on untested scallop dredge modifications called “chain mats” as its sole precaution against turtle bycatch. These grids of chain prevent turtles from entering the chain bag at the rear of a dredge but are unlikely to prevent turtles from being injured by scallop dredges used by fishermen to scour the seafloor.

“Turtle chains do not protect turtles from being mangled by scallop dredges. The chain mats may have simply turned scallop dredges into giant turtle bludgeons,” added Allison. All loggerhead sea turtle subpopulations that nest in the U.S. are declining according to a study released last month by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The study revealed that South Florida nesting population of loggerheads, the largest nesting assemblage in the Atlantic and about 35% of the worldwide nesting population, has declined by nearly 40 percent since 1998. These are the same turtles being caught and maimed by scallop dredges.

Loggerhead turtle populations are declining in large part due to injury or death in fisheries. It is time for the federal government to step up and take control of sea turtle bycatch in the scallop dredge fishery,” said Elizabeth Griffin, Oceana’s marine wildlife scientist. 

The seasonal fishing closures were widely supported by the members of the Council’s “Scallop Advisory Panel” during its review of the proposed regulation earlier this month. Fishing industry participants cited the closures as a win-win agreement for the scallop fleet and loggerhead sea turtles, resulting in little cost for the scallopers. 


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