Fishermen sue government to protect turtles

Jerry Schill stepped back into the center ring in April when he took back the helm of the North Carolina Fisheries Association, a trade association that represents commercial fishermen, seafood dealers and processors.

A loggerhead escapes a fishing net through a turtle excluder device. NOAA photoSchill had stepped down in 2005 and had since held the position of interim executive director. But now that he’s back, he’s committed to reenergizing the voice of the association.

And that’s exactly what he’s done so far.

Just last week, the association (and the affiliated Carteret County Fishermen’s Association) filed suit against the state and federal governments for failing to enforce the Endangered Species Act in the protection of sea turtles.

The complaint states that while commercial fishermen have been required to adhere to a number of measures in efforts to protect sea turtles, the defendants have failed to take any action to prevent the illegal takes of sea turtles in the recreational hook and line fishery.

These lawsuits, not unlike the suit Gulf of Mexico snapper fishermen recently won, is one way the commercial fishing industry has of fighting back against the endless slate of NGO lawsuits that seek to hamper commercial fishing under the guise of straw-man protective measures.

If we want to preserve both healthy fisheries and healthy oceans, we have to accept the bottom line that we all have the same goal. We cannot have any sort of balance between healthy local seafood and healthy seas by allowing frivolous lawsuits to threaten fisheries, especially when the easy targets are the family-friendly small-boat fleets (the fisheries that provide the bulk of the seafood you find in your local stores and restaurants).

We have to decide what our values are, and despite what Oceana and many other supposedly altruistic organizations would have the public believe, the answers are not simple. We have to work together, and we need our management agencies to apply the rules fairly to all sectors.

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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