Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sharks and Turtles: the yin-yang of government action

The Yin: Sharks

Over the past months I have mentioned the progress of HR 81, the Shark Conservation Act that requires sharks to be landed whole with fins attached. This will allow for better enforcement and monitoring of shark catches. Additionally, it indirectly imposes on captains to re-think the value of shark as a catch, once they are no longer allowed to fill their holds with only higher-priced fins. It's U.S. legislation that helps the U.S. to encourage other nations to be leaders in shark conservation.

"The Shark Conservation Act will improve existing laws that were originally intended to prevent shark finning. This legislation will also allow the U.S. to take action against countries whose shark finning restrictions are not as strenuous, labeling the U.S. as a continued international leader in shark conservation," says Beth Lowell, Oceana federal policy director.

The legislation died on the floor of the Senate last year, but was reintroduced by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) for this new session. Earlier this month it was passed by the House and has once again moved on to the Senate. This is the government moving in the right direction, so to ensure its final passage, take a moment and send an email or call the senator from your state. You can find contact information for your senator by clicking here.

The Yang: Sea Turtles

On the other hand, regarding the protection of sea turtles, particularly loggerhead and leatherback turtles in U.S. waters, the government - specifically the National Marine Fisheries Service - failed to respond to petitions filed to review their status as threatened or endangered species (many populations have dropped by as much as 80% through commercial fishing and/or loss of nesting habitats). Petitions must be reviewed within 12 months and as the NMFS failed to do this, they are in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The Turtle Island Restoration Network, Center for Biological Diversity, and Oceana have filed petitions to sue - once again taking proactive measures to break the government's legacy of indifference and inaction left over from the prior administration.

"It's time for the Obama administration to overturn the Bush policies of hostility and disregard toward endangered marine species. We are asking for immediate action based on the best available science to determine their current endangered status and better protect them by creating designated critical habitat," said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

What this all says is that government action is critical in protecting our natural resources, but it must be supported by diligence on the part of all of us, least specific issues fall through the cracks.

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