6 Turtle-Killing Fish
How buying these six fish is encouraging the death of hundreds of loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species.
Bought any summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, Atlantic mackerel, squid or Atlantic butterfish lately for a delicious dinner?
You won't see this on any label at the fish counter, but the methods used to catch those six fish slaughtered hundreds of loggerhead sea turtles, a threatened species, according to the ocean conservation group Oceana, which is urging the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council to stop the unnecessary killing.
Loggerhead turtles have been listed as a threatened species since 1978 because their numbers are significantly in decline. In 2007, Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requesting that a subset of the loggerhead population -- those in the western North Atlantic -- be classified as endangered, affording their habitat additional protection than the species is granted as a threatened species. On Florida beaches, where most loggerhead nesting in the U.S. takes place, there has been a 41% decline in nesting loggerhead turtles since 1998.
In its recovery plan for the species, the Fish and Wildlife Service lists bottom trawling as the first "highest priority threat" to the species, and recommends the use of "turtle exclder devices" in trawling nets to reduce turtle deaths.
Fishermen targeting those six fish in the Atlantic -- summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, Atlantic mackerel, squid or Atlantic butterfish -- from roughly Massachusetts to Florida, with trawl nets are killing 10 times more loggerhead turtles than allowed under the Endangered Species Act, according to Oceana.
Trawl fisheries operate by towing funnel-shaped nets through the water or along the seafloor. "While trawls generally target specific species or groups of species, their unselective nature results in the catch of anything that is too large to escape through the mesh of the nets, including sea turtles," according to Oceana. Turtle excluder devices can reduce turtles killed by 97%, but are only required of summer flounder in certain seasons and certain waters; otherwise, for these six fish species, there is no gear modification used to protect turtles.
"Without an avenue for escape, sea turtles likely drown when captured in trawl fishing gear due to forced submergence," the group claims. "If they do escape, they are often injured from the great stress of being netted and are left more susceptible to further injuries and death."
Bycatch -- as killing of unwanted species in fishing gear is called -- is one factor that lands fish on "do not buy" lists like those published by theEnvironmental Defense Fund and the Monteray Bay Aquarium. Proving just how difficult buying seafood ethically is, though, of the six problematic fisheries identified by Oceana, only Atlantic summer flounder makes it onto both groups' "do not eat" lists. Both black bass and squid are listed as "ok" choices -- not the best, not the worst. Monteray Bay Aquarium lists mackerel as a best choice, and scup as an ok choice, while Environmental Defense Fund doesn't make a recommendation either way.