In 2006, Sea Turtle Restoration Project and its partners defeated a proposal to allow the draft gillnet fleet to fish in the Leatherback Conservation Area established in 2001 to prevent deadly entanglements with fishing gear. Between 2001 and 2008, no leatherbacks were observed by the fishing fleet, which operates mainly out of San Diego and Los Angeles. However, in 2009, a leatherback was observed entangled and then released alive. While it is good news that the leatherback was not killed, we are concerned that as many as nine leatherbacks or more may have been entangled in the fishery over the past three years based on government estimates.
Part of the concern arises because observer coverage in the fleet has fallen to its lowest levels ever, and 2009 had the least coverage of any year at 13 percent. A fleet needs at least 20 percent coverage to adequately predict interactions with endangered animals.
In 2010 two sperm whales were observed entangled and killed in the fishery, which based on observer coverage, equals an estimated 16 sperm whales killed in the fishery. This level of whale interactions exceeds the fishery's allowable take and is now operating in violation of the Endangered Species Act (as of February 2013).
Previous actions from 2006
The U.S. federal fishing agency - National Marine Fisheries Service - is poised to issue a new Fishing Permit which will eliminate a highly effective LEATHERBACK CONSERVATION AREA created to reduce the destruction caused by Drift Gillnet Fishing along the California and Oregon coast. The same fishing method has been banned on the high seas by the United Nations. Now the government wants to expand it off our coast.
The proposal would authorize the killing of the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle, humpback whale, short-finned pilot whale and sperm whale. Drift Gillnet fishing has been closed since 2001 in over 100,000 square miles along the West Coast for a four-month period each year to protect the leatherbacks. This important Leatherback Conservation Area has resulted in NO leatherback deaths since it was put in place.
Drift Gillnet Background Information:
Drift Gillnet Fishery 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue
Drift Gillnet Scientist Letter
Drift Gillnet Coalition Letter