Monday, April 21, 2003

The Plight of the Leatherback The giant, leatherback turtle is disappearing from the Pacific Ocean, the victim primarily of irresponsible fishing practices. This is tragic not just for the fact that these turtles have existed for more than one hundred million years, but also for what it tells us about the consequences of overfishing generally. The Pacific used to sport such large populations of these turtles that scientists found it inconceivable that their numbers could be threatened. But as fewer females show up at traditional nesting sites every year, the conclusion becomes inescapable.

To keep up with the enormous demand for fish, fishermen the world over have turned to "long-line fishing", in which long lines of hooks are spread out across miles of ocean. Turtles are not the primary targets of this practice, but frequently get caught up in the lines and drown as a result. There are strict controls on this practice in the United States, but international fishing crews do not labor under such rules and account for 94% of all such fishing. Unless these rules can be enforced internationally, it is not clear what can be done.

Populations of many fish species have dwiindled in recent years. If that's possible in the Pacific, the world's largest ocean, it does not bode well for other fish populations.

More information can be found in the Los Angeles Times here. The article also notes that these turtles are hunted by poachers partly for their supposed properties as aphrodisiacs. A fine example of the harmful effects of believing pseudoscience.


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