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The National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is proposing mandatory changes to pound nets used in parts of Virginia Chesapeake Bay during the time of year when hundreds of threatened and endangered sea turtles – known to become entangled in or trapped against pound net leaders – migrate into the area. NOAA Fisheries is an agency of the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Each spring, hundreds of sea turtles migrate north along the Atlantic coast and into the Chesapeake Bay where they forage throughout the summer on the Bay’s rich marine life. During May and June in recent years, the agency has documented both high numbers of stranded sea turtles and sea turtles in pound net leaders around the bay.
Under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries is required to conserve threatened and endangered species, and can require changes in fishing practices to do so. The agency continues to investigate other possible causes of the Virginia sea turtle strandings. The agency is also working with pound net operators on an experiment that would test different ways of hanging net in the leader in order to reduce the likelihood of turtle catches.
A pound net operation includes a “leader” that diverts marine life swimming parallel to the shore into a “heart,” which funnels the catch into a “pound.” The leader is a series of stakes set perpendicular to the shore and hung with net, resembling a fence. The heart and pound are created by hanging a series of stakes with net to create a funnel and an enclosure. The net in the pound is lifted, and the catch scooped and sorted from the enclosure. Sea turtles, air-breathing reptiles, can become entangled in or trapped against the leaders where they can be seriously injured or drown.
If the proposed gear changes are approved, they would apply from May 6 through July 15 annually. During that time, pound net operations in a portion of the lower bay would not be able to use leaders, and those in the upper bay could only use nets in the leader with stretched mesh measuring less than 8 inches. Public comments will be accepted on the proposal through early March. A public hearing will also be held in Virginia Beach next week.
From May through July 2002, approximately thirty-one active pound net operations (using approximately seventy nets) landed 3 million pounds of fish worth about $800 thousand at the dock, including species such as flounder, Atlantic croaker, menhaden and sea trout. If the proposed changes had been effective for the thirty-one operations during 2002, 10 in the lower Bay would have fished without leaders, and 4 in the upper Bay would have used smaller mesh in their leaders.
The public hearing will be held at the Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort Conference Center in Virginia Beach on Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004, at 7 p.m., 3900 Atlantic Ave., at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and 39th Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23451, (757) 428-1711.
Comments on this proposal will be accepted until 5 p.m. on March 8, 2004. Written comments on this action or requests for copies should be sent to the Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources, NOAA Fisheries, One Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Comments and requests for supporting documents may also be faxed to (978) 281-9394. For more information, contact Carrie Upite at (978) 281-9328 x6525 or Barbara Schroeder at (301) 713-1401.
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources and their habitat through scientific research, management and enforcement. NOAA Fisheries provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public.
The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.
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