12 Mar CCA NC Comments on NCFA Notice of Intent to Sue
March 11, 2014
On March 6, 2014 the North Carolina Fisheries Association and the Carteret County Fisherman’s Association (Plaintiffs) filed a Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue various state and federal resource agencies under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for failure to adequately regulate both recreational, hook-and-line fishermen and boaters who may incidentally take protected sea turtles in North Carolina while fishing or boating. The ESA requires that agencies responsible for administering its protections receive 60-day notice of alleged problems under the statute before actual litigation can ensue. In its NOI the prospective Plaintiffs ask state and federal resource agencies for either an in-water stock assessment for all protected species of sea turtles to determine whether management restrictions on fishermen remain warranted under the ESA, or alternatively, request that those resource agencies impose on recreational fishermen and boaters management restrictions that are, in Plaintiff’s eyes, equivalent to those currently in place for commercial fishermen until sea turtle populations are declared fully recovered.
Plaintiffs’ NOI significantly mischaracterizes the relative threat of recreational marine resource users to the conservation and recovery of protected sea turtles as compared to the documented threat to conservation and recovery presented by commercial gear users. While Plaintiffs imply that state hook-and-line fishermen accounted for 45 percent of sea turtle interactions according to 2013 North Carolina Sea Turtle Strandings and Salvage Network (STSSN) information, the actual STSSN data show that state recreational fishermen accounted for no more than 25 percent of fishing gear interactions with sea turtles and 4 percent of gear-caused sea turtle fatalities. Moreover, because STSSN data are largely self-reported they are not representative of state sea turtle strandings as a whole, and they exclude sea turtle interactions in the shrimp trawl and commercial long line fisheries; the vast majority of sea turtle deaths caused by hook-and-line interactions occur in the latter fishery. Additionally, while Plaintiffs make vague, unsupported allegations in the NOI of the underreporting of sea turtle interactions by recreational fishermen, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries’ (DMF) 2013 observer data for the gillnet fishery ITP indicate that—if DMF’s observer program is representative of the gillnet fishery as a whole—it is statistically probable that commercial gillnetters should have reported some 600 sea turtle interactions for gillnet trips not being observed during 2013; yet in actuality they reported only 1 such interaction, even though the gillnet ITP strictly mandates self-reporting.
Coastal Conservation Association North Carolina (CCA-NC) has always been, and remains, committed to the conservation and recovery of protected sea turtles in North Carolina. That commitment was evidenced last year both by recreational gear recommendations CCA-NC made to the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission pertaining to the use of circle hooks in some recreational fisheries, and by CCA-NC’s vigorous participation in the statewide gillnet and Atlantic sturgeon Incidental Take Permit processes. CCA-NC is also committed to fairness in implementing the mandate of the ESA, including fairness to commercial fishermen. That commitment to fairness can never mean, however, that this organization accedes to the widespread use of non-selective commercial gears that by their very nature pose a continuing threat both to sea turtles and state finfish stocks. CCA-NC is closely monitoring this proposed lawsuit on behalf both of its members and the millions of other citizens who would be adversely affected by imposition of the unwarranted remedies Plaintiffs seek in this case, as set out in the NOI. CCA-NC is committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to safeguard those interests as this lawsuit proceeds.
Dedicated to the Conservation of North Carolina’s Marine Resources
4809 Hargrove Rd., Ste 123 Raleigh, NC 27616 (919) 781-3474 (FISH) Fax (919) 781-3475 email@example.com