Longline fishing reintroduced in California

On June 13, 2007, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it was planning to issue an Exempted Fishing Permit to allow pelagic longline fishing in the waters off California and Oregon. Longline fishing is currently prohibited in the 200-mile "Exclusive Economic Zone" (EEZ) off the West Coast. Such fishing has been banned within the EEZ off California for more than 30 years. However, until 2004, a fleet of longline vessels operating out of California ports fished for swordfish in the high seas just outside of the US EEZ. Following a successful lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, that fishery was closed down to protect endangered sea turtles.

Globally, longline fishing has been a disaster for marine wildlife, with more than a billion hooks set each year and more than 200,000 sea turtles, 100,000 seabirds, thousands of marine mammals, and millions of sharks caught or killed annually. Over 1,000 scientists from more than 100 countries and over 300 organizations from 60 countries have called upon the United Nations for a moratorium on pelagic longline fishing in the Pacific.

In the past 25 years Pacific leatherback sea turtles have declined by over 95 percent. Drowning in longline and gillnet fishing gear is the primary cause of the species’ decline. If this level of mortality continues, the species may disappear from the Pacific in as little as a decade. Pacific leatherbacks nest in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, yet return regularly to the waters off the central California and southern Oregon coasts to feed on jellyfish.

In 2001, following another lawsuit by the Center, the Fisheries Service designated an area off the California and Oregon coasts as the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area and banned gillnets from the area when leatherbacks are present. This month, under pressure from the Center, scientists and the public, the Fisheries Service canceled a plan to allow gillnets back in the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area. However, the next week the agency proposed to allow longline fishing in the very same Conservation Area on an experimental basis.

The current proposal is the first step toward allowing the introduction of full-scale longline fishing on the West Coast. Please write today and urge the Fisheries Service to protect endangered sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals and reject longline fishing in our coastal waters.

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