|A loggerhead sea turtle that swallowed a longline hook on the deck of a swordfish vessel. Photo: MarMas/Oceana|
Certification of the U.S. Atlantic Southeast Pelagic Longline Swordfish and Tuna Fisheries under the Marine Stewardship Councilís (MSC) eco-label is inappropriate due to significant levels of bycatch of endangered and protected species and non-target fish in both fisheries rendering them unsustainable. Longline fishing is known to jeopardize the survival and recovery of endangered and threatened sea turtles, marine mammals, seabirds and fish species including bluefin tuna, billfish, rays and shark.
DayBoat Seafoods of Miami, Florida, is seeking the certification of the Florida East Coast Zone of the tuna and longline fisheries.
MRAG Americas is conducting the certification and most of the assessment team is made up of its staff members -- creating a clear conflict of interest.
Certifying this fishery could set a precedent for wasteful longline fisheries around the world to be designated sustainable by the MSC.
- Longlining operations are wasteful with typical bycatch of 50 percent or more of non-target species including sea turtles.
- About 120 vessels operated in the whole Atlantic pelagic longline fishery in 2008.
- About 6 to 7 million deadly hooks are set each year in the U. S. Atlantic pelagic longline fishery.
- An average of 400,000 thousand hooks are set in the Florida East Coast (FEC) zone annually.
Ocean habitat offshore of Florida is used all year for migration, foraging, and breeding by six species of sea turtles, all of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
- Between 2001 and 2008, the pelagic longline fleet snared 4,839 loggerheads and 6, 626 leatherbacks for a total of 11,465 animals.
- In the Florida East Coast zone along during that same time period 631 leatherbacks and 506 loggerheads were hooked and harmed or killed.
- Since 2004 bycatch reduction measures including circle hooks have been required in the fishery but National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that 635 loggerheads will still be harmed or killed in the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery every year even with circle hooks and other bycatch reduction measures
- Critically endangered Kempís ridleys, hawksbills and green sea turtles are also caught in lesser numbers in this fishery every year.
- The Atlantic pelagic longline fishery is a Category 1 fishery under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), meaning that bycatch of marine mammals is significant and detrimental to their populations.
- Between 1992 and 2007, 2,768 marine mammals were hooked or tangled in the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery.
- During 2008, the pelagic longline fishery was estimated to have harmed or killed 142 pilot whales, 65 Rissoís dolphins, 35 unidentified marine mammals, seven bottlenose dolphins, six beaked whales, four killer whales, three Atlantic spotted dolphins, three unidentified dolphins and two sperm whales.
- Most of these occurred in the mid-Atlantic Bight but marine mammal take has been reported in the Florida East Coast Zone in the past.
The U.S. pelagic longline fishery operates areas of high diversity of oceanic seabirds in the Western North Atlantic.
- From 1992 through 2008, an estimated 3, 361 seabirds were caught by the pelagic longline flight. Most of these seabirds were gulls, gannets, storm petrels and shearwaters.
- Greater shearwaters are listed as a species of special concern because its numbers are unknown and nesting beaches threatened. Northern gannets and gulls were also hooked and either killed or injured.
- However, no specific mitigation measures for seabirds have been proposed by government agencies for the fishery as seabird bycatch numbers are considered insignificant by fishery managers.
Pelagic longlines account for a high proportion of accidental killing and discard of protected billfish, sharks and bluefin tuna in U.S. fisheries
- From 2000 to 2008, 91 percent of blue marlin, 69 percent of white marlin and 29 percent of sailfish mortalities occurred in the pelagic longline fishery.
- More than half of the pelagic and large coastal sharks caught are discarded and some of these species, such as silky and night sharks, are typically discarded dead.
- Bluefin tuna are also wasted with approximately 75 percent discarded from 2000 to 2008.
- In the Florida East Coast zone in 2005, 51 percent of the finfish caught were discarded and of these fish, 46 percent were discarded dead.
- Discard rates and discard mortality were considerable for target species, as well as for other commercially valuable bycatch species like bluefin tuna, shortfin mako and wahoo.
Contact: Teri Shore, Program Director, 415-663-8590, ext. 104, firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more at: www.seaturtles.org
National Marine Fisheries Service Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) Report for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species 2009.
National Marine Fisheries Service, Loggerhead Sea Turtle 2009 Status Review Under the U. S. Endangered Species Act, August 2009.
U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA-Fisheries, Annual Report of the United States to ICCAT, 2009.