Environmental Concerns

Sea Turtle Restoration: The Washington Times Article

Endangered Oceans
By Todd Steiner
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published June 12, 2003

Last month another major warning flag on the state of our oceans was hoisted when Canadian scientists re-ported that 90 percent of the world's big fish have disappeared from the seas. Their study found that the largest and some of the most economically important species of fish had been wiped out in the past 50 years by industrialized fishing, in particular, by a fishing method known as longlining.

This study follows another that was presented in February at the most prestigious U.S. scientific meeting, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, by Duke University professor Larry Crowder. Mr. Crowder reported that industrialized longlining was driving many non-target species toward extinction as well, including the Pacific leatherback sea turtles and some species of seabirds. Collectively, all these marine species are critical to ecosystem dynamics, but are viewed as expendable by an international fishing industry that seeks to maximize short-term profits without taking into account the tremendous environmental costs of their practices.

For example, the pelagic longline industry sets more than 5 million baited hooks every day (almost 2 billion annually). The lines used in longlining can be up to 60 miles long with more than 2,000 hooks on each line. These lines catch anything that bites or is unfortunate enough to get hooked while swimming in its path. Not coincidentally, in the past two decades, as longlining has increased, the number of Pacific leatherback sea turtle females that have safely returned from the oceans to their nesting sites has dropped dramatically by more than 90 percent.

The international community came together to ban destructive industrial fishing in the past, and it now needs to push for similar action. In 1993, the U.N. banned drift-net fishing on the high seas. The nets had caused a similar crisis at sea, drowning hundreds of thousands of dolphins and other marine species. Unfortunately, after the U.N. ban on this practice, many of these vessels replaced their drift nets with longlines and gill nets.

The endangerment of the Pacific leatherback sea turtle will be just the first in a host of crises if unsustainable fishing practices are not addressed. If we allow the commercial fishing industry to pursue short-term profit without concern for the long-term costs t