Friday, 14 June 2024

Senate approves measure in support of efforts to protect sea turtles

SACRAMENTO – The State Senate last Wednesday voted 28-12 to approve Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 62, a measure expressing California lawmakers’ support for efforts to recover and preserve imperiled leatherback and loggerhead sea turtle populations. AJR 62 is authored by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).


North Coast Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) is one of AJR 62’s co-authors. In presenting the measure for last Wednesday’s vote, Wiggins told her colleagues that “AJR 62 urges the National Marine Fisheries Service to delay issuing new permits for long-line fishing, until pending endangered species act studies on the decline of sea turtle populations are completed.


“Long-line fishing for swordfish results in a ‘by-catch’ rate of nearly 50% of other fish and marine animals, such as the threatened and endangered sea turtle,” Wiggins added.


“That is why the Department of Fish and Game and the Coastal Commission have been opposed to a new swordfish fishery, until the Endangered Species Act status and critical habitats of these magnificent sea turtles are established,” Wiggins said. “Unfortunately, the Fisheries Service is poised to move forward with issuing new permits any day now. The endangered leatherback sea turtle has survived for over 100 million years; certainly the Fisheries Service can wait a bit longer for more complete scientific information.”


The Assembly approved AJR 62 on June 9. In his testimony, Assemblyman Leno noted that “these turtles eat jellyfish along the California coast after a 6,000-mile swim from their nesting beaches in Indonesia. Populations of the Pacific Leatherback a 100-million-year-old species that outlived the dinosaurs have declined by approximately 95 percent in the last 25 years. Populations of Pacific Loggerheads have declined by more than 80 percent during the same period.


“Long-line fishing for swordfish involves the setting of fishing lines with thousands of hooks, across miles of ocean, and at depths where sea turtles swim,” Leno added. “The catch using this method brings in by weight approximately 50 percent swordfish, and 50 percent other fish, sharks, sea birds, seals, dolphins, other marine mammals, and sea turtles including the endangered leatherback sea turtle.


“Injury and drowning from interactions with long-line fishing gear targeting swordfish is a direct contributor to these sea turtles’ rapid decline and potential extinction,” Leno said.


AJR 62 urges the National Marine Fisheries Service to delay approval of these new federal swordfish permits until:


  • The Pacific Leatherback’s critical habitat is established;

  • The Endangered Species Act status of the North Pacific Loggerhead is determined;

  • Critical habitat is designated for the loggerhead, should it be up-listed to “endangered” status.


“The Pacific leatherback could become extinct within 10-20 years if existing fishery by-catch rates of these sea turtles are not reduced,” Leno said. “Waiting approximately 18 months until the endangered status and critical habitat are established is simply the prudent thing to do.”


Wiggins represents California’s 2nd Senate District, which includes Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties. Visit her Web site at http://dist02.casen.govoffice.com/.


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