November 28, 2005

UN vote urges fishing limits to protect turtles

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The UN General Assembly urged
governments and fisheries management groups on Monday to take
urgent steps to protect endangered sea turtles and sea birds
from an indiscriminate fishing technique.

A resolution adopted by consensus by the 191-nation
assembly is aimed at restricting a form of industrial fishing
known as longline fishing.

It is used by large fishing vessels in the Pacific Ocean
that trail lines studded with hooks that can stretch out as
long as 60 miles behind them, snaring millions of sea turtles
and birds along with the fish they intend to catch.

The resolution calls for urgent implementation of measures
set out in UN Food and Agriculture Organization guidelines
intended to reduce such incidental sea turtle and bird deaths.

The measures include closing some fishing areas on a
seasonal or continuous basis as well as restricting particular
types of fishing equipment.

But they fall short of the moratorium on longline fishing
sought by more than 1,000 scientists from 97 countries in a
letter delivered to UN delegates in May.

Longline fishing is practiced by vessels from many nations
including the United States, Japan, Taiwan, Spain and other
Asian and Latin American nations.

The value of its take at dockside is estimated at $4
billion to $5 billion a year.

Tuna and swordfish are longline fishing's most common
targets, but the lines also snag as many as 4.4 million sea
turtles, bullfish, sharks, marine mammals and seabirds every
year, according to a study of the practice conducted by Robert
Ovetz of the California-based Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

One of the hardest-hit creatures is the migratory
leatherback sea turtle, whose numbers in the Pacific have
declined by 95 percent since 1980, according to Ovetz.

Scientists warn the leatherback could disappear in the next
five to 30 years unless fishing techniques are altered.

Ovetz hailed the UN vote as a good first step. But a
moratorium "would give us the time to put proven conservation
measures into place to keep the leatherback from dropping off
into oblivion forever," he added in a statement.