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Sea Turtle Conservationists Letter on Proposed New Federal Fishery Rules

August 7th, 2008

(c) Doug Perrine/seapics.com

August 7, 2008

Alan Risenhoover
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, Maryland 20190

Re: 0648-AV53 MSA Environmental Review Procedures

Dear Mr. Risenhoover,

The sea turtle conservation organizations, nesting beach volunteers, resource agencies and researchers listed below are writing to urge the National Marine Fisheries Service to withdraw its proposed rule regarding Magnuson-Stevens Act Environmental Review­ Procedures and develop a new rule that complies with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. Instead of updating the environmental review process under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and ensuring its consistency with NEPA, the proposed rule complicates the process and violates the most basic NEPA requirements.

Your agency's proposed NEPA rule hands over too much authority to fishery management councils that have a long history of poor management, significantly limits the public's ability to participate in fishery management decisions, and allows fishery managers to make decisions about fishing without fully considering the impacts on marine ecosystems including sea turtles, seals, corals and other precious ocean life.

We are particularly concerned about the negative impacts that this new rule may have on protecting endangered sea turtles. In the past NEPA standards have helped stop the incidental bycatch of endangered sea turtles in fisheries.

For example, NEPA provided a means to protect endangered marine turtles from becoming bycatch on swordfish longlines in the West Pacific. Following a full exploration of alternatives to protect sea turtles and albatrosses in a supplemental EIS, changes from "J" to circle hooks and modified bait techniques enabled the resumption of the swordfish fishery that had been closed by court injunction. But when sea turtle catch limits were reached, the fishery was again suspended to protect the species.

The new rules would also exempt "experimental" fishing permits from NEPA review. This could be disastrous as your agency is already attempting to open harmful new longline swordfish fisheries along the West Coast of the U. S. in a Leatherback Conservation Zone under the pretext of an "experimental" permit. Without a full EIS under NEPA, decision makers would not be provided with the critical environmental analysis need to understand the potential harm to leatherbacks and other marine life if a new shallow-set longline fishery were opened.

For us, NEPA compliance is crucial for ensuring that sea turtles are protected from fisheries and that our nation's oceans are sustainably managed by requiring fishery managers to thoroughly consider potential impacts of their actions before proceeding, and giving individuals and local communities a voice in management decisions.

When Congress reauthorized the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) in 2006, it directed the National Marine Fisheries Service to update its environmental review procedures for compliance with NEPA and the regulations of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Unfortunately, the proposed regulations NMFS has produced fail to comply with this Congressional directive and would instead seriously weaken environmental review and public participation in fisheries management.

The proposed NEPA rule:

  • Invents a complicated new process to replace environmental impact statements, effectively discarding thirty years of established case law and practice by managers and the public.
  • Allows individuals with financial interests to control the environmental review and public participation process. The proposed rule enables the regional fishery management councils - a majority of whose appointed members have financial interests in the fisheries they manage - to control the environmental review and public participation process.
  • Enables fishery managers to circumvent environmental review with new loopholes.
  • Permits significant reduction in public input by allowing mangers to reduce the time periods for public comment well below the current required minimum with no outside oversight.

As written, the proposed regulation fails to implement Congressional intent, breaks with thirty years of established NEPA practice by natural resource agencies, improperly delegates authority to financially interested (and non-federal) parties, and weakens public involvement in fisheries management. As a result, sea turtle populations and ocean health would be jeopardized.

As groups representing Americans who care deeply about sea turtles and our oceans, we respectfully ask you to withdraw this proposed regulation and develop one that complies fully with NEPA and established CEQ regulations, and uses to the fullest, NEPA's proven methods for assisting fisheries management decision making.

Thank you for considering our views.

Sincerely,

Teri Shore
Program Director
Turtle Island Restoration Network
Forest Knolls, CA 

David Godfrey
Executive Director
Caribbean Conservation Corporation
Gainesville, Florida

Marc Ward
Executive Director
Sea Turtles Forever
Seaside, Oregon

Andrea Treece
Senior Attorney, Oceans Program
Center for Biological Diversity
San Francisco, CA

Leanne Welch
Environmental Program Supervisor
Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Mgmt
Palm Beach, FL

Frank V. Paladino Ph. D.
Jack W Schrey Distinguished Professor
Department of Biology
Indiana-Purdue University
Fort Wayne, IN

Andrea Grabman
Interpretive Manager
Edisto Beach State Park
Edisto Island, SC

Beverly Ballow, volunteer
SCDNR Turtle Monitoring and Stranding
SC Aquarium Sea Turtle Rehabilitation
Charleston, SC

Mary Pringle, Project Leader
Sea Turtle Nest Protection Program
Isle of Palms/Sullivan's Island, SC

Stephen M. Schelb
Independent researcher
West Palm Beach, FL

Barbara Mason, Volunteer
Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (NEST)
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Kaye Lyerly
NEST Volunteer
Kill Devil Hills, NC

Raimundo Espinoza M.Sc.
NOAA Coral Reef Management Fellow
Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales de Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Amber L. Pitt
Ph.D. Candidate
School of Natural Resources and Environment
Gainesville, FL




Sea Turtle Restoration Project • PO Box 370 • Forest Knolls, CA 94933, USA
Phone: +1 415 663 8590 • Fax: +1 415 663 9534 • info@seaturtles.org
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