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Environmental groups offer solution for longline fishery

HALIFAX — The federal government must implement and enforce new methods to protect sea turtles and several shark species from Canada's Atlantic longline swordfish and tuna fishery, according to the Ecology Action Centre and the David Suzuki Foundation. The two organizations will present a proposal Wednesday on ways to ensure protection for thousands of endangered and at-risk marine species that get caught unintentionally in the fishery.

"We are aiming for a solution that would allow the industry to continue to fish but only with accountable and defensible catch limits on sensitive species," said David Suzuki Foundation sustainable fisheries analyst Scott Wallace.

The proposal, which the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the fishing industry will discuss at the annual Atlantic Large Pelagics Advisory Committee on Wednesday, recommends a pilot project to develop scientifically sound catch limits for sensitive species and to monitor compliance with these limits by using video cameras on the longline fleet.

Each year, Canada's Atlantic pelagic longline swordfish and tuna fishery catches about 170 endangered leatherback sea turtles, nearly 10 times as many loggerhead turtles (listed as threatened in the U.S.), and tens of thousands of porbeagle, shortfin mako and blue sharks — all species at risk according to scientific assessments. Large numbers of juvenile swordfish and tunas, including the prized bluefin tuna, are also caught and discarded in this fishery.

A similar video-monitoring system, designed in part by fishermen themselves, has been in place in Canada's Pacific bottom longline fisheries since 2006 and is endorsed by the David Suzuki Foundation and other conservation organizations as a model for sustainable fisheries.

A U.S. bottom longline fishery operating in the Gulf of Mexico will be closed down later this year because of its impact on loggerhead turtle populations. Canada's Atlantic swordfish and tuna longline fishery, however, is catching twice as many turtles as the U.S. fishery slated for closure, according to recently published research.

"Although many of the unwanted animals in Canada's pelagic longline fishery are released alive, a significant fraction of those animals die after they're released," said the Ecology Action Centre's Alexandra Curtis.

"When you're catching hundreds or even thousands of individuals of species whose populations in Canadian waters are already at risk, it really adds up. DFO needs to step up and begin to manage this fishery in a way that does not harm the marine ecosystem," Curtis added.

The joint proposal also calls for the use of lower-impact fishing gear to capture swordfish and tunas, including harpoons for swordfish and rod and reel and trolling gear for tunas. These highly selective methods catch the same species the longliners target, but with almost no bycatch of non-target species.

"The harpoon fishery for swordfish has the lowest ecological impact of any commercial fishing gear in Canada," said Susanna Fuller, the Ecology Action Centre's director of marine conservation and lead author on a recently released study on the impacts of Canadian fishing gears on ocean ecosystems. "DFO should be providing incentives for the use of low-impact gears, but we haven't seen that happen yet."

END

For more information, contact:

Scott Wallace, Sustainable Fisheries Analyst, David Suzuki Foundation, swallace@davidsuzuki.org, (778) 558-3984.

Alexandra Curtis, Sustainable Fisheries Scientist, Ecology Action Centre, acurtis@ecologyaction.ca, (902) 442-0999.

February 24, 2009
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/media/news/2009/02/canada-must-protect-atlantic-sharks-turtles/