|Terry Mass Photo|
SeaTurtles.org (TIRN) filed the objection to the MSC certification of the Florida swordfish fleet after the certifiers and the fishery client ignored detailed comments from the world’s largest ocean conservation groups on how the fishery could be better operated to protect sea turtles and other marine life. For example, the fishery could have set a limit on the number of turtles it accidentally caught or switch completely to fishing gear that doesn’t capture sea turtles. When the final certification documents were released without these changes, SeaTurtles.org (TIRN) filed its objection with the MSC head office in London, England. An oral hearing was held November 18 near San Francisco, after which the Independent Adjudicator (the MSC-appointed and contracted judge), ruled in favor of certification on December 7, 2011.
Click here to download the SeaTurtles.org (TIRN) objection and detailed comments here. Download the Independent Adjudicator's decision here. More info on this page.
The Florida swordfish fleet that was certified consists of about 50 vessels that use either longline or handgear buoy lines. It operates 100 to 150 miles offshore between Fort Pierce and the Florida Straits. Each year, the fleet drops an average of 400,000 hooks attached to longlines that stretch across the ocean, incidentally entangling and injuring or killing all kinds of sea life. Click here to download the fishery assessment and background information.
Evidence that the Florida longline swordfish fishery is not sustainable because of capture and harm to endangered and threatened sea turtles and other protected marine species includes:
Florida loggerhead sea turtles caught by the fleet have declined by 40 percent and were proposed for greater protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
In 2009, the Florida swordfish longline fleet caught an estimated 18 leatherback turtles and 40 loggerhead turtle based on vessel logbook entries and observations by National Marine Fisheries Service.
• Between 2001 and 2008, the fishery’s estimated capture of turtles totaled 78 leatherbacks and 63 loggerheads each year, according to National Marine Fisheries Service.
• Federal fishery managers closed the Florida longline fishery for years because too many turtles were being snared.
• Many of the fish species incidentally caught and discarded are also in serious trouble. For example, bluefin tuna, blue and white marlin, sailfish and shortfin mako sharks caught as bycatch are overfished and/or are subject to overfishing.
• Whales, dolphins and seabirds may also swim or fly into the fishing gear.
Additional criticisms of the fishery assessment by MRAG Americas include:
• The fishery assessment combines two separate fishing gear types into one assessment, the lower-impact handgear buoy line and the high bycatch longline fishery.
• If assessed separately, the handgear buoy line fishery would be more easily granted sustainable certification and the longline fishery could be denied.
• The fishery assessment ignores the cumulative impacts of U.S. Southeast Atlantic longline fishery which is managed as a whole and catches the same populations of swordfish and sea turtles.
• Allowing this fishery to be certified independently of the larger fishery disregards the cumulative impacts of the overall fishery on sea turtles, marine mammals, fin fish species and marine ecosystems.
• The Marine Stewardship Council is also recommending certification of the Canadian longline fishery without considering that the fleet there also fishes on the same swordfish and sea turtle populations.