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U.S. bans swordfishing to help sea turtles

Green Sea Turtle on Heron Island (Great Barrier Reef), Australia
Green Sea Turtle on Heron Island
U.S. bans swordfishing to help sea turtles
Commercial trawlers often snag turtles, other marine life
The Associated Press
Updated: 9:15 a.m. ET March 12, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO - Commercial fishing for swordfish -- one of the more popular seafoods for consumers -- has been banned by the United States in a large swath of the Pacific Ocean. The move aims not at saving swordfish but endangered sea turtles.

The new rules, released Thursday by the National Marine Fisheries Service, prohibit what's called "longline" fishing for swordfish in the Pacific between the West Coast and Hawaii. The ban, scheduled to take effect April 12, will affect about two dozen fishing boats based in California, Oregon and Washington.

Longlining uses miles of line and thousands of baited hooks. Sea turtles as well as birds, sharks and dolphins going after food often get hooked accidentally as a result.

Recreational fishing is not affected.

Moral high ground

"It's an important step in protecting endangered sea turtles from going extinct," said Todd Steiner, director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network, which lobbied for the ban. "It won�t save the sea turtles by itself, but when the U.S. takes proper action, it's in a better moral position to get other countries to also take action."

The United States makes up only about 5 percent of the global swordfish fishing fleet, Steiner said. Japan, Korea and Taiwan all have large fleets.

Federal officials have estimated that "long-lining" kills 61 threatened loggerhead sea turtles and 15 endangered leatherback sea turtles each year. Biologists say the leatherback could become extinct in 10 to 30 years if current trends continue.

Court supports action

The fisheries service issued the ban after its scientists determined that continued swordfish fishing would jeopardize the survival of the sea turtles, said Tim Price, the agency's assistant regional administrator for protected resources.

Green Sea Turtle on Heron Island (Great Barrier Reef), Australia
Seabound Green Sea Turtle
In August, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the fisheries service had violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing longline fishermen to continue operating along the West Coast.

The fishermen have said a ban on swordfish fishing would threaten their livelihood.

The rules bar longline fishermen from bringing in their catch to West Coast ports. A 2001 federal ruling bars them from operating in Hawaii.

� 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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