Lawsuit filed alleging violations of agencies involved in sea turtle protection
Daily News (Jacksonville, NC), 2014-08-06
Aug. 06 --A lawsuit has been filed in federal court on behalf of two commercial fishing organizations that allege violations of the Endangered Species Act by several federal and state agencies involved in the protection of sea turtles.
The N.C. Fisheries Association and the Carteret County Fisherman's Association gave notice in March of the intent to sue and filed the complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief Tuesday in Raleigh .
Representatives of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ; U.S. Department of the Interior ; U.S. Department of Commerce ; N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries ; N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources ; and N.C. Wildlife Resources are listed as defendants.
With the lawsuit, the commercial fishing organizations are challenging the agencies for failing to take action to prevent the illegal take of endangered and threatened sea turtles in the recreational hook-and-line fishery.
"While defendants' own scientific data acknowledge significant numbers of illegal incidental takes of protected sea turtles by the recreational hook and line fishery, defendants have ignored this data and instead, arbitrarily and capriciously placed virtually the entire burden of sea turtle conservation efforts and regulation on commercial fisheries," the complaint states.
"The commercial fishery has been, and continues to be, highly regulated regarding conservation efforts directed at sea turtles. There currently exists no comparable management, regulation, or oversight for the recreational hook and line fishery despite knowledge of significant numbers of unlawful takes by these resource user groups."
The complaint requests that court rule that the defendants continue to violate Section 9 of the ESA and have allowed the recreational hook-and-line fishery to "operate in a manner that has caused and is continuing to cause the illegal take of endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles and the unauthorized take of threatened loggerhead, green and leatherback sea turtles."
NCFA President Jerry Schill said no action has been taken to resolve concerns since the notice of intent was filed and restrictions on commercial fishermen under the ESA have increased.
Two incidental take permits are now in place under agreements with the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect both sea turtles and now Atlantic sturgeon.
"We understand the importance of adhering to the incidental take permits, but nothing has been done on the other (hook and line) side to address violations of the ESA," Schill said.
On the other hand, plaintiffs said, commercial fishermen have been required to adhere to a number of measures in efforts to protect sea turtles, including in the shrimping, large mesh gillnets and the long-line fishery.
The commercial fishing groups are also asking the court to order the defendants to implement regulations in the recreational hook-and-line fishery until they receive an incidental take permit.
They also want the federal agencies to conduct in-water abundance surveys and nesting population surveys for sea turtles.
Schill said a stock assessment of the sea turtle populations are needed to assess the status of the species and determining when the populations have recovered and reached possible de-listing.
"Otherwise it's just an open-ended effort," he said.
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