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A Desperately Needed Win for the Loggerheads

Loggerhead turtles are beset by a bewildering and deadly series of challenges, much as the other species of sea turtles are. People raid their nests and steal eggs. Hundreds used to die in shrimpers' nets until the advent of turtle excluder devices. Miles of their nesting beaches have been "armored," that is, lined with boulders to defeat natural erosion. Hundreds used to die feeding on baited hooks aimed at catching swordfish and tuna.

Earthjustice and its allies have made significant progress in bringing these threats under control, but sea turtle numbers have continued to decline nonetheless.

So it came as welcome news early this month when a federal judge in Florida ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to take another look at rules that govern the Gulf of Mexico fishery in loggerheads' favored habitat.

This is a long-line fishery like the swordfish and tuna fishery, but in the Gulf the baited hooks are dragged along the bottom in search of grouper and tilefish. Unfortunately, this is right where the turtles forage for crabs and other delicacies.

It was rough enough until the Deepwater Horizon blew up a little over a year ago, spreading crude oil all over the place. No one knows yet the full extent of the damage caused by the blowout, but there's good reason to fear for the well-being of the turtles and many more species.

Nonetheless, NMFS refused to consider the oil spill when calculating how many turtles it would let the fishing industry kill--until it was slapped with a lawsuit by the Gulf Restoration Network, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Turtle Island Restoration Network, and the Sea Turtle Conservancy, all represented by Earthjustice. The court said not so fast. The opinion i s here.

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