New England Puts Endangered Loggerhead Turtles in the Cross-Hairs

Why put in the effort to protect an endangered species when doing so could hurt your profits? That seems to be the attitude of the New England Fishery Management Council, which last week voted to rescind its seasonal scallop-dredging restrictions in a move that puts endangered loggerhead sea turtles in direct conflict with industrial fishing vessels.

For years, the Council has restricted scallop fishing in the elephant Trunk Access Area east of New Jersey during September and October -- key migration months for the loggerheads. Not allowing scallop dredging during these months kept loggerheads from getting caught up and killed as "incidental capture."

But now the Council has replaced these rules and decided to allow the use of something called "chain mats," which they say will prevent sea turtles from getting caught in the dredges. Conservation groups say these chain mats will still leave turtles open to injury from the dredging process itself.

What's odd is that the Council's own Scallop Advisory Panel apparently supported the season fishing restrictions, saying it kept scallop populations healthy and had little cost to scallopers.

What's worse here is that a study released just last month by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that all populations of loggerhead sea turtles are declining and that "the most significant man-made factor affecting conservation and recovery of the loggerhead is incidental capture in commercial and artisanal fisheries."

While the loggerhead is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, its official Fish and Wildlife-directed recovery plan has not been updated since 1991 and National Marine rules allow thousands of turtles to be killed by commercial fisheries every year.

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