HARKERS ISLAND — Two fisheries associations want a sea turtle stock assessment, as well as observation and interaction reporting requirements for both commercial and recreational fishermen, from the National Marine Fisheries Service, and they are willing to go to court to get them.
This suit, if it goes forward, would be for federal and state agencies failing to enforce the Endangered Species Act as written for protected sea turtles.
Stevenson Weeks of Beaufort, attorney for the N.C. Fisheries Association and the Carteret County Fisherman’s Association, announced Thursday at a presentation to journalists with the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources at Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center that he and Wesley C. Cooper, another attorney working with him, sent the NMFS Wednesday a 60-day notice of intent to file a civil action.
Notice was also sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
“Commercial fishermen would love to see the turtle recover and to see restrictions eased,” Mr. Weeks said. “The fishermen are reporting more turtles every year. We want a stock assessment, but in the meantime, we want a little equality. We think all user groups should do their part to help the recovery, not just the commercial fishermen.”
Patricia Smith, DMF public information officer, confirmed this morning the division has received the notice.
“We’re discussing it with DENR and our legal council,” she said. DMF had no further comment. News-Times contacted the NMFS for a response, but the service wasn’t able to respond by presstime.
Mr. Weeks said the NCFA hired him to examine the ESA and the management plans created under it. He said that there are several species of protected sea turtles on the list, and all of them, with the exception of the hawksbill sea turtle, are found in North Carolina. These species include the threatened loggerhead, green and marine sea turtles and the endangered Kemps Ridley sea turtle.
Mr. Weeks said the association’s purpose with its notice is to get the NMFS to conduct a stock assessment of sea turtle populations throughout the United States. They’re also seeking requirements for both commercial and recreational fisheries to be observed for interactions with sea turtles and fishing gear, as well as a requirement for both types of fishermen to report such interactions.
Mr. Weeks said that currently, while the commercial fishermen must report sea turtle interactions and there’s an observer requirement for the estuarine gill net fishery – due to a settlement for a lawsuit filed by the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center against the DMF and the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (the state’s fisheries rulemaking body) over sea turtle interactions with gill nets – no such observation or reporting is done for recreational fishing.
“We want observers to determine how large the recreational take (of sea turtles) is,” he said. “Also, there should be areas recreational fishing should be prohibited.”
A “take” is defined in the ESA as any action that harms, harasses, captures, pursues, hunts, shoots, wounds, traps or kills a protected species. According to the notice of intent, the N.C. Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network reported 28 strandings of endangered or threatened sea turtles between Jan. 1 – Sept. 6, 2013 directly attributable to hook and line fishing; 45 percent of all strandings reported during that timeframe.
The notice also says boat strikes have contributed to interactions. It said that in recent years, 15-20 percent of live and dead loggerheads seen along the U.S. Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico have sustained injuries from vessel strikes; the NMFS also estimates boat strikes are the second-highest non-fisheries related cause of mortality in loggerheads.
“Many scientists have said a stock assessment needs to be done; that’s what we want, too.”
Mr. Weeks said that to date, there has been no stock assessment of sea turtle numbers in the United States. He said that there have been nesting studies done, but these aren’t a good indicator of turtle populations because only female turtles nest and not all females nest every year.
“The commercial fishermen and many recreational fishermen think the turtles are at or near recovery,” he said.
Mr. Weeks, NCFA Interim Executive Director Jerry Schill and commercial fisherman Bill Hooper of Beaufort stressed that these requests aren’t meant to be hostile to recreational fishermen. Mr. Hooper, who is involved with the legal action, said their motivation is that they need help getting people’s attention to the regulatory pressures the commercial fishermen face.
“I’m not trying to gouge a person for being a hook and line fishermen, I need his help,” he said. “Is it going to hurt? Yes. But we have to level the playing field so the outcry is such that people will hear.”
Bradley Styron, owner and operator of Quality Seafood on Cedar Island and MFC member, said he thinks the notice was sent to draw attention to other users impeding the recovery of sea turtles.
“We need to know the numbers,” he said. “If somebody else is catching the turtles, their recovery may never be reached.”
Mr. Schill said the NCFA is taking this action for three reasons: to help the turtles recover, fairness in regulations and to create a roadmap to an “end game” for turtles being threatened and endangered. The NCFA has previously supported the state’s observer program by developing a plan to fund it through a new, state-created fund, which the DMF and MFC have both supported.
“We’re hoping that with our action today, we can have a goal that can be quantified,” he said. “For 50 years I’ve been asked by commercial fishermen ‘if other factors are affecting turtles, why are we the only ones paying for it?’ Now we have a chance to say ‘we’ve done our part.’ ”
Those served notice of the intent to file legal action are several high profile individuals, including DENR Secretary John Skvarla, DMF Director Dr. Louis Daniel, WRC Executive Director Gordon Meyers, DOI Secretary Sally Jewell, USFWS Director Daniel Ashe, NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan and DOC Secretary Penny Pritzker.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.
HARKERS ISLAND — Officials representing local commercial fishermen announced Thursday afternoon they will file suit against several federal and state agencies for alleged violation of the Endangered Species Act in regards to recreational taking of sea turtles.
The N.C. Fisheries Association teamed with the Carteret County Fisherman’s Association for the action and will be represented by local attorneys at Wheatly, Wheatly, Weeks, Lupton and Massie, a Beaufort firm.
Attorney Stevenson Weeks made the announcement at the Core Sound Waterfowl and History Museum.
The groups announced a 60-day notice of the intent to file the suit that will contend that while previous proceedings have enforced tough restrictions on the commercial fishing industry in regard to incidental captures of the aquatic creatures, the recreational sector remains largely unregulated.
“It is our belief that an accurate, in-water stock assessment will show these turtle species are at, or near recovery and strict regulation is unwarranted in both the commercial and recreational user sectors,” the groups said in a prepared release. “Until that is accomplished, an equal allocation of conservation efforts and management across all user groups and activities which result in incidental takes is necessary and required under the Endangered Species Act to conserve and allow recovery of sea turtles.”
Those served notice of the intent to file legal action are several high profile individuals, including John Skvarla, secretary to the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources; Dr. Louis Daniel, executive director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries; Gordon Meyers, head of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission; Sally Jewel of the U.S. Department of the Interior; Daniel Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; NOAA head Dr. Kathryn Sullivan; and Penny Pritzker, secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
They are to be served this afternoon with the notice of intent.
Contact Jackie Starkey at 726-7081, ext. 232; email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter @jackieccnt.