Group sues Trump administration for issuing fishing permits known to harm sea turtles

Group sues Trump administration for issuing fishing permits known to harm sea turtles
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An environmental group sued the Trump administration on Thursday for issuing longline fishing permits known to ensnare endangered sea turtles off California’s coast.

In its suit, the Center for Biological Diversity charged that by issuing the permits in May, the government violated multiple environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Industrial longline fishing has pushed sea turtles toward extinction, while also decimating seabirds and marine mammals. California has prohibited longlines for decades. The Fisheries Service has prohibited them since 2004. Yet this year the Fisheries Service has authorized longlines in waters off California currently protected for leatherback conservation,” the lawsuit reads.

The Trump administration on May 8 issued permit exemptions to two vessels allowing them to use longlines 50 to 200 miles off California’s coast for two years. The National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that “the impacts of the [longline exempted fishing permits] are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.”

The environmental group is challenging the administration's finding, arguing that the exemptions are a workaround to a more than a decadelong ban on longline fishing in the Pacific Ocean first put in place due to sea turtle harm.

The federal government in 2004 banned longline fishing from targeting swordfish in a portion of the Pacific Ocean as a way to protect endangered sea turtles that would also get caught by the lines, also known as ghost lines.

“The Fisheries Service prepared an inadequate biological opinion that fails to properly analyze the impacts of the Permit on threatened and endangered animals as required by the Endangered Species Act,” the suit reads.

The group is asking the court to invalidate the two permits.

Endangered pacific leatherback sea turtles are one of the turtle species found in the fishery. Scientists say the species is so imperiled it could go extinct in 20 years.

California last August passed a bill that would make it ultimately unlawful for commercial fishers to use shark or swordfish drift gillnets, as well as troll lines and hand lines that are more than 900 feet in length, due to the risk they pose to sea turtles.

A judge last October also issued a blow to the Trump administration over the use of gillnets off California’s coast. A U.S. district judge ruled that the federal government “exceeded its authority” when it withdrew a rule in June 2017 that initially suspended the use of swordfish gillnets off the coast of Southern California if any bycatch limits were exceeded. The withdrawal by the Trump administration was largely seen as a move to end regulations on the fishing technique.