NOAA 2001-R118
Contact: Connie Barclay

Use of Nets May Contribute to Sea Turtle Strandings

Hoping to stop a rash of sea turtle deaths on the Virginia side of the Chesapeake Bay, the Department of Commerce's NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service has published an emergency rule that prohibits the use of a certain type of net.

Biologists suspect that fishing nets known as pound nets are contributing to the deaths. Historically, sea turtle mortalities in late May and June in Virginia have been attributed to entanglement in large-mesh, pound net leaders in the Chesapeake Bay. Pound nets are passive fishing devices consisting of wooden poles staked into the sediment with a net attached. The leader net extends into the water perpendicular to the sea floor.

"All sea turtles in U.S. waters are protected under the Endangered Species Act," said Bill Hogarth, acting administrator for NOAA fisheries. "To reduce the chances that more sea turtles die, we are implementing this emergency rule to ensure that this type of fishing gear is not used when sea turtles are in the area." NOAA fisheries coordinated with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in requesting that the pound net fishery pull their fishing gear from the affected areas.

Under the Endangered Species Act, injuring or killing sea turtles, called a take, is prohibited. The incidental take of endangered species may only legally be authorized by a NOAA fisheries incidental take permit or statement.

The emergency rule prohibits the use of all pound nets with leaders measuring eight inches or greater of stretched mesh or leaders with stringers in the Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries. The affected area includes all Chesapeake Bay waters between the Maryland and Virginia state line and the COLREGS line at the mouth of the Bay, including the tidal waters of the James River, York River and Rappahannock River.

NOAA fisheries is dedicated to protecting and preserving our Nation's living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.