Your help needed to convince NMFS to deny Atlantic commercial longline permit in off limit areas!

Date: May 22, 2007
Contact: Marydele Donnelly
Phone: (352) 373-6441

Action deadline: Ended June 20, 2007
How You Can Help

Update: On August 30, NOAA Fisheries announced that it would not issue an Exempted Fishing Permit (longline) requested by BlueWater Fishermen’s Association to fish and collect data in the closed areas off Charleston and the East coast of FL. Thanks to everybody who responded to this alert. Yeah for the turtles!

Dear STC Activist,

We need your help to convince the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to deny Atlantic commercial longline fishermen a permit to fish in two areas that are currently off limits to them. In 2000 waters near Charleston, SC and the East Coast of Florida were closed to commercial longline fishing to safeguard juvenile swordfish. The closure also protects loggerhead and leatherback turtles in these areas from capture.

The Bluewater Fishermen’s Association has requested a special permit to fish these waters until April 2008 to see if changes in bait and gear, such as circle hooks, reduce the capture of sea turtles and immature swordfish. STC supports efforts to reduce the catch of sea turtles and other non-target species, but we oppose this exempted fishing permit for the following reasons:

  • The effect of proposed fishing on sea turtles and juvenile swordfish in the closed areas is not evaluated.
  • The proposed research and protocols are not described.
  • An Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the permit is not provided.
  • Alternatives to fishing in closed areas are not examined.

Each year the Atlantic pelagic longline fleet captures, injures or kills hundreds of loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act. The National Marine Fisheries Service allows these interactions under an incidental take permit. In 2006, the fleet exceeded the number of leatherback turtles with which it is allowed to interact.

On behalf of the longline fleet, the Bluewater Fishermen’s Association wants to collect data on the performance of circle hooks by allowing 13 boats to fish in closed areas and compare catch today to historical catches. It has provided scant information on research and protocols.

Fishing in the closed areas will increase the fleet’s interactions with sea turtles. As Atlantic populations of nesting loggerheads are declining, this is not the time to increase capture and mortality in U.S. fisheries!

Two years ago the National Marine Fisheries Service denied a similar request for an exempted fishing permit from Bluewater Fishermen’s Association, noting the need for an Environmental Impact Statement “to further assess the impacts associated with fishing in existing pelagic longline closed areas.”

Bluewater Fishermen’s Association has not examined the alternatives to fishing in closed areas. Better comparisons could be made if fishermen compared their catch today to historical data from areas where they are fishing now. Information on catch rates, discards, and mortality in these areas before and after requirements for circle hooks and fish bait is already available.

Fishing with circle hooks will not prevent the hooking of juvenile swordfish. According to government statistics, ~ 20,000 juvenile swordfish are caught and discarded annually in the areas that are now open. Increasing the overall bycatch of juvenile swordfish by fishing in areas carefully established to reduce the capture of under-sized fish undermines swordfish stock re-building plans.

There is no compelling reason to allow commercial longline fishing in areas closed for conservation. As presented, the proposed action appears to be simply an attempt to re-open longline fishing in areas currently closed to commercial vessels. STC is urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to deny the permit.

As an activist, you can make a difference and contribute to this discussion by letting the National marine Fisheries Service know that you oppose commercial longline fishing in closed areas. You have until June 20th to urge the Service to deny this permit.


TAKE ACTION: urge the National Marine Fisheries Service to maintain the current bans on longline fishing in closed areas off the coasts of Charleston, South Carolina and East Coast Florida for the conservation of sea turtles and billfish.

* Write to Michael Clark, Highly Migratory Species Management Division (F/SF1), National Marine Fisheries Service and make the main points from the letter below. You can reach him at:
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Email:, subject line: I.D. 030107C

* Forward this alert to your friends and colleagues!

Thank you for your help. It really makes a difference.


Dear Mr. Clark:

I oppose an exempted fishing permit (EFP) for commercial longline fishing in areas of the Atlantic Ocean that are closed off Charleston, SC and the Florida East Coast. These closed areas protect juvenile swordfish and loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles. At the present time the Atlantic pelagic longline fleet currently captures hundreds of sea turtles every year and about 20,000 juvenile swordfish. Turtle and swordfish capture will increase if commercial longliners are allowed to fish these closed areas.

In the Atlantic, loggerhead nesting populations are declining dramatically, in large part because fisheries interact with and often kill sea turtles. NMFS has permitted U.S. fisheries to accidentally capture, injure and drown too many loggerheads. NMFS should deny this permit and reduce the number of loggerheads that can be captured and killed in other U.S. fisheries.

NMFS denied a similar request in 2005, noting that an Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate this issue was needed. Once again, there is no Environmental Impact statement evaluating the effect of this permit and reviewing its alternatives.

Longline fishing has significant detrimental impacts on endangered and threatened sea turtles and juvenile swordfish. The research proposed by Bluewater Fishermen’s Association is not useful and it does not provide appropriate safeguards.