For several years now, the National Marine Fisheries Service -- the agency responsible for protecting sea turtles and ensuring sustainable fishery management -- has allowed startling numbers of loggerhead sea turtles to be captured, injured, and killed in the Gulf of Mexico. Loggerheads feed, migrate, and breed off Florida's west coast. Unfortunately, too often they become hooked or entangled in bottom longline gear used by fishers seeking to catch grouper, tilefish, or sharks. The Fisheries Service itself estimates that the Gulf of Mexico bottom longline fishery has captured more than 960 sea turtles, including some 782 loggerheads, since July 2006. Many of these turtles died and many more were injured. Under the Fisheries Service's own biological opinion, the fishery was only permitted to take around 200 sea turtles, including 85 loggerheads, over a period of three years. The fishery exceeded that level of capture by the end of 2006.
In January, the Center warned the Fisheries Service that we'd sue if the agency didn't take immediate action to put an end to this excessive and illegal turtle bycatch. After ignoring turtle bycatch data for more than two years, the Fisheries Service is finally considering taking action to stop the slaughter. Given that the Gulf of Mexico fishery captures reproductively valuable juvenile and adult sea turtles and caught dozens of sea turtles during April 2008 alone, leaving this fishery open during the spring of 2009 is simply unacceptable. Tell the Fisheries Service not to wait a day longer in finally fulfilling their duties under the Endangered Species Act. These ancient creatures need protection today.