NOAA 2000-148
Contact: Gordon Helm


NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is temporarily closing a fishing area on the Grand Banks to provide additional protection for loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles caught as bycatch by U.S. fishermen during Atlantic pelagic longline fishing operations.

The agency will be seeking public comment on the emergency action which implements a time and area closure of 55,970 square miles effective from Oct. 10, 2000, through April 9, 2001. The Federal Register notice announcing the closure will become effective on October 10, and will publish a few days later.

"Although fishermen do a good job of releasing sea turtles alive, we need to reduce the number of serious injuries and deaths of turtles hooked on pelagic longline gear," NOAA Fisheries Director Penny Dalton said. "The closed area was selected to provide increased protection because of the large number of sea turtles that congregate there at that time of year."

The closed area is an L-shaped area of the Grand Banks bounded by the following coordinates:

45 degrees 00' N. lat., 49 degress 00' W. long.;
45 degrees 00' N. lat., 43 degrees 00' W. long.;
43 degrees 00' N. lat., 43 degrees 00' W. long.;
43 degrees 00' N. lat., 47 degrees 00' W. long.;
41 degrees 00' N. lat., 47 degrees 00' W. long.;
41 degrees 00' N. lat., 49 degrees 00' W. long.;
45 degrees 00' N. lat., 49 degrees 00' W. long.

The emergency rule also requires all pelagic longline vessels that fish in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea to carry on board and use dipnets and line clippers to aid in the removal of any fishing gear from captured sea turtles.This aspect of the emergency action is delayed 45 days to give fishermen an opportunity to acquire or fabricate the gear.

The pelagic longline fishery is managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. National standard 9 of that Act requires NOAA Fisheries to reduce, to the extent practicable, fishery-related take of sea turtles.

Last fall, NOAA Fisheries reinitiated an assessment of sea turtle fishery interactions under the Endangered Species Act. Officials determined the re-initiation was required because:

  • preliminary observer reports indicated that the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery had exceeded its authorized incidental take levels of loggerhead sea turtles in 1999, and
  • new action creating time/area closures in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean changed the fishery operations in ways that had not previously been considered.

This assessment was completed June 30, 2000, and NOAA Fisheries scientists concluded that operation of the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of threatened loggerhead and endangered leatherback sea turtles. This conclusion was based on the current status of the loggerhead and leatherback sea turtle populations in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, the status of the northern subpopulation of loggerhead sea turtles, and the anticipated continuation of current levels of injury and mortality of both species due to longline fishing activities.

Since June 30, 2000, NOAA Fisheries scientists have concluded that further analyses are needed to determine more precisely the impact of the pelagic longline fishery on sea turtles. Consequently, officials are reassessing the interaction, and anticipate issuing a new biological opinion in early 2001. Until the consultation is completed, NOAA Fisheries is implementing these emergency measures in the short-term to reduce sea turtle bycatch and bycatch mortality in the pelagic longline fishery, based on historical data on sea turtle interactions.

Public comments on this emergency rule will be considered in determining whether to extend this emergency rule to address sea turtle bycatch reduction measures. Responses to comments will be provided if the emergency rule is revoked, modified, or extended. Send comments to Christopher Rogers, Acting Chief, NMFS Highly Migratory Species Management Division, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910; or fax to (301) 713-1917. Comments will not be accepted if submitted via email or the Internet. Copies of the environmental assessment and regulatory impact review prepared for this action may be obtained from Christopher Rogers.

Editor's Note: Compliance Guide including map of closed area available on Tuesday, October 10, at: