Loggerhead Turtles

The following NMFS/USFWS announcement regarding loggerhead turtles reflects an extremely significant development reflecting the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s (SSA) longstanding leadership in the area of sea turtle bycatch.  It is worth providing some context on SSA’s role in this result.

The premise of SSA’s approach to our fisheries management agenda has been to take very seriously our responsibility for legitimate bycatch issues while at the same time seeking all ways possible to minimize adverse impacts of necessary bycatch protection measures on our fisheries.  Bycatch issues involving loggerhead turtles have figured prominently.

If made final, a joint NMFS/USFWS Proposed Rule issued in March, 2010, to divide the treatment of loggerhead turtles as a species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) into 9 Distinct Population Segments (DPSs), and to up-list the status of 7 of those proposed DPSs from threatened to endangered, would trigger a series of regulatory steps under the Act that pose a severe threat to our fisheries.

On our preliminary review of the scientific and legal bases of the Proposed Rule, it became clear that there were a large number of significant flaws, and that a truly useful analysis of these flaws would require SSA to put together a team that included additional scientific and legal expertise.  SSA engaged Dr. Benny Gallaway and his team of experts in the field of sea turtle biology, population dynamics and genetics to fully analyze the questionable analytical methodologies and models used to support the Proposed Rule.  SSA also engaged the highly-respected ESA expert attorney George Mannina to analyze all legal issues associated the Proposed Rule including especially those stemming from the scientific flaws.  George’s engagement also sent a strong message to NMFS and USFWS leadership that SSA would be fully prepared and well represented to challenge the Final Rule if it did not correct such flaws.   For several months Benny and George worked as a team with SSA’s John Williams and Glenn Delaney to conduct these analyses and implement a strategy for pursuing SSA’s objectives.

The conclusions of these analyses formed the basis of the extensive public comments SSA filed in September 2010, as well as the subsequent presentations SSA made to the top leadership of both NMFS and the USFWS.   SSA’s activities were also coordinated with other affected fisheries including the pelagic longline fishery represented by the Blue Water Fishermen’s Association, and the New England scallop fishery represented by the Fisheries Survival Fund, in the preparation of their excellent public comments on the Proposed Rule.  Finally, SSA worked closely with several Members of Congress who directly engaged agency leadership on our concerns, most notably, Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) and former Congressman Solomon Ortiz (D-TX).  Both Congressmen took notable leadership on the critical need for additional population assessment data from non-nesting sources such as aerial surveys.

In the notice below, NMFS and USFWS have announced a 6-month delay in making a final decision on the Proposed Rule.   Please note that paragraph 3 of this announcement (in bold type) sets forth the issues NMFS and USFWS have now admitted require further analysis/improvement before they can make a final decision on the elements included in the Proposed Rule.  This will also necessitate a full reevaluation of whether the Proposed Rule is scientifically sound and legally justified based on previous and new information received in the coming months.

These issues are precisely those that SSA documented in its public comments and presentations to the agencies’ leadership.  In this action, NMFS and USFWS have effectively conceded to SSA’s input and have committed to reevaluate and reconsider their position.  This does not happen very often and speaks to the quality and effectiveness of SSA’s work on this issue. SSA greatly appreciates the recognition by NMFS and USFWS leadership that these issues need further reconsideration, as well as their willingness to take the right steps to correct them.  SSA looks forward to continuing our cooperative work with NMFS and the USFWS in this effort.


NOAA Fisheries and US Fish and Wildlife Service Extend Date for Determining Endangered Species Act Status for Loggerhead Sea Turtles

On March 17th, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced they will extend by six months the date for the final rule to list nine distinct population segments (DPS) of loggerhead sea turtles as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The final determination will be made no later than September 16, 2011.

Since 1978, the loggerhead has been listed as threatened throughout its range. On March 16, 2010, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposed rule to designate seven loggerhead DPSs as endangered (North Pacific Ocean DPS, South Pacific Ocean DPS, Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS, Northeast Atlantic Ocean DPS, Mediterranean Sea DPS, North Indian Ocean DPS, and Southeast Indo-Pacific Ocean DPS) and two as threatened (Southwest Indian Ocean DPS and South Atlantic Ocean DPS). The Endangered Species Act requires that within a year of a proposed listing, we do one of the following: (1) finalize the proposed listing; (2) withdraw the proposed listing; or (3) extend the final determination by not more than 6 months, if there is substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data relevant to the determination, for the purposes of soliciting additional data.

The extension is necessary because of disagreement related to the status of one of the nine loggerhead DPSs: the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS. Specifically, the debate is about how to interpret existing data about the DPS’s status and trends, and how these data relate to the assessment of extinction risk to the DPS. There is also debate about the magnitude and immediacy of both the threat of bycatch in fisheries to this DPS and measures to reduce this threat. The additional six months will help ensure the best scientific and commercial data available is fully assessed and analyzed, and that data areinterpreted and applied consistently for all nine proposed DPSs.

The public is invited to comment on the issues related to the appropriate status for the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS. Comments will be accepted up to 20 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register and can be submitted through; use keyword RIN 0648-AY49 to access this proposal.  Previously submitted written comments on this proposal need not be resubmitted.

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