Saturday, July 18, 2009

NC Gill Nets Capturing Sea Turtles Draws Federal Intervention, Permit #1528 Questionable

In a letter dated July 7, 2009 to NCDMF Director Louis Daniel, Dr. Roy Crabtree of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of NOAA, expressed serious concerns about the catching and killing of Sea Turtles by gill nets here in North Carolina. All Sea Turtles in North Carolina Coastal waters are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The NCDMF obtained a permit in 2005 from the NMFS which allows the "incidental capture" of over 200 Sea Turtles per year in the Pamilco Sound by gill-net fishermen. This permit, #1528 is due to expire on December 31, 2010.
The concern was raised when during a period from June 17th thru June 25th of this year, NMFS Observers accompanied commercial net fishermen on five trips. On four of those trips, eleven Sea Turtles were discovered entangled in the gill-nets. Four of the Sea Turtles were dead.

Dr. Crabtree expressed the NMFS concerns in the letter as follows; "We do not have sufficient information to extrapolate the observed takes into total estimated takes for that time period. However, eleven Sea Turtles in five trips is indicative of a high level of take and a problem that needs to be addressed promptly."

We suspect the reason for the concern is that many more Sea Turtles are being entangled and killed in gill-nets than are being reported. The small window of "takes" observed by the NMFS confirms what those of us who live on the coast here in NC have known all along. Gill-nets are indiscriminate underwater "Walls of Death"!

This whole episode begs the question; Just how many Sea Turtles and other animals both fish, birds, and mammals are killed in our coastal waters every year by these gill-nets that are never reported? Dr. Crabtree points out very clearly in his letter that both the State and the gill- net fishermen can be prosecuted for violating the Endangered Species Act.

Part of the "Conditions of the Permit" contained in Section IV, A #6, part B reads as follows;

"For sea turtles that are injured, lethargic, or
dead, fishermen must contact the NCDMF Marine
Patrol and transfer the turtle to an NCDMF patrol
vessel, if one is located in the GNRA. If no NCDMF
patrol vessel is in the vicinity, fishermen must
transport the turtle to the U.S. Coast Guard
Station at Oregon Inlet or Hatteras Inlet and turn
the turtle over to Coast Guard personnel."

Here are questions we would like answered by the NCDMF; How many Sea Turtles have been killed in gill-nets since the permit was issued in 2005? How many of these Sea Turtles were reported and delivered to DMF personnel or Coast Guard personnel in accordance with the Permit as described above by commercial fishermen in the last four years?

The general public of not only North Carolina has a right to know, but the nation as a whole is entitled to the same! North Carolina is endowed with the sacred trust of our nation for the protection of all marine life for all citizens. The belief that our coastal fisheries should be managed for the few at the expense of all citizens is a short sighted position that is wrought with a history of political garbage that will soon be exposed for what it is!

We have only seen the tip of the iceberg concerning the sordid truth behind the destructive practice of gill-nets! Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of an ugly chapter of heritage and history here in North Carolina!