Sea Turtle Restoration: The Washington Times
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
to society, we will see a greater decline in fishery stocks and
biodiversity. For that reason, we urge the U.N. to fend off efforts
to derail environmental agreements, and institute an international
moratorium on pelagic longline and gill-net fishing in the Pacific
that harm or kill endangered or threatened marine species.
Hundreds of prominent marine scientists and nongovernmental organizations
from more than 50 nations have joined the effort to ban this type
of fishing by signing a letter calling for the U.N. moratorium.
Broad support from marine experts should send a clear signal to
the Bush administration that it needs to rise to the challenge of
creating more sustainable global marine policies.
To be sure, promoting a greater level of responsibility and accountability
in the world's fisheries requires determined international leadership,
but the consumer has a role as well. Many of the big fish being
wiped out by industrial longlining, such as swordfish, sharks and
tuna are top-of-the-food-chain predators that have bioaccumulated
poisonous mercury in their flesh. The mercury levels in these fish
are so high that the FDA and EPA have recommended that women of
childbearing age and children simply not eat these species to protect
their health. In California, supermarkets and restaurants are obligated
to post warnings about eating these species under Proposition 65
Toxics Right to Know Law.
By taking swordfish, tuna and shark off our menus, and demanding
that seafood restaurants and retailers provide sustainable seafood
choices, we can save the leatherback sea turtle and other marine
species from the jaws of industrial fishing fleets. Our choices
will reduce demand and send the message to the Bush administration
and the fishing industry that we demand protection of the health
of our oceans and of the people who inhabit this planet.
Todd Steiner is director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network,
Forest Knolls, Calif., an environmental organization focusing on
endangered marine wildlife and ocean ecosystems.
Copyright © 2003 News World Communications, Inc. All rights
on The Washington Times Website