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Scientists find no-jeopardy for Loggerhead and Leatherback sea turtles

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Hawai‘i & Am Samoa longline fisheries have no discernable impact on projections
Source: WPRFMC press release

Honolulu, HAWAII — The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) have concluded the Hawai‘i deep-set longline and American Samoa longline fisheries are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of Endangered Species Act-listed species that may be accidentally hooked or entangled during fishing operations. The SSC found the no-jeopardy conclusion is well supported by the scientific information used in the analysis.

In the four years leading up to the draft biological opinions (BiOps), the SSC reviewed statistical models evaluating population-level effects of the Hawai‘i deep-set longline and American Samoa longline fisheries on loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles. The SSC last week heard an update on the assessment that evaluated the effect of the Hawai‘i deep-set fishery on the leatherback turtle population. The committee determined that the updated analysis represents the best scientific information available. The models show the two fisheries have no discernable impact on the population projections when comparing scenarios with and without fishery impacts.

The SSC adopted the findings of a working group formed to provide a detailed review of the draft BiOps. The Council will consider the outcomes at its meeting to be held during the week of March 27 in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and Guam.

 “I would like to commend the working group on its efforts to review these 300- to 400-page documents in an extremely short period of time,” said SSC member Craig Severance. 

Both draft BiOps include two Reasonable and Prudent Measures (RPMs) to minimize fishery impacts to the species. One RPM requires releasing ESA-listed species in a way that minimizes injury and increases post-release survivorship. Many of the animals are already released alive due to adherence to handling guidelines presented at required annual protected species workshops for commercial fishermen. 

The second RPM is to ensure the fisheries have monitoring and reporting programs in place to collect data on the interactions. The deep-set longline vessels are required to carry federal observers on 20% of their fishing trips to monitor interactions with non-target species and assess the effectiveness of measures designed to reduce bycatch. This is high compared to international standards of 5% coverage for longline vessels.

The SSC concluded these RPMs are adequately supported by the best available scientific and commercial data, and encouraged NMFS to support quicker reporting of fishery interaction data to facilitate the timely reporting requirements. One of the Terms and Conditions for the RPMs would require increased monitoring for an area where the Hawai‘i deep-set longline fishery overlaps with the main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whale population. The SSC recommended NMFS first conduct an evaluation of fishery interaction risk with the latest data to determine whether increased monitoring would be warranted.