Conservation Groups Press U.S. to Sanction Mexico Over Sea Turtle Deaths

The Center For Biological Diversity and Sea Turtle Restoration Project have petitioned the United States government to impose trade sanctions on Mexico for failing to abide by international sea turtle conservation agreements. Their core concern is described this way:

“Over the past decade, scientists estimate that Mexican gillnet and longline fisheries have killed over 2,000 endangered North Pacific Ocean loggerheads a year. Bycatch reached a record high last July, when a mass mortality event left 483 loggerheads stranded on just one stretch of beach – a 600 percent increase over previous years’ averages. This extraordinarily high level of bycatch cannot be sustained and may ultimately drive this endangered sea turtle population to extinction.” [news release]

The groups say the United States has leverage through the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles. The decade-old agreement is designed to protect both dwindling sea turtle populations and the habitat they rely on for feeding and breeding. The “bycatch” of loggerhead sea turtles in gillnets is centered in ocean waters off Magdalena Bay, Mexico, the focal point of our documentary, which will be released next week.

In an interview earlier this week, Sarah Uhlemann, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the surge in deaths of loggerheads is enough to invoke the “Pelly Amendment,” which allows the U.S. to sanction any country that violates the treaty. In the next several years, a ban on imports of certain Mexican seafood products could be instituted by the U.S Commerce Department if government agencies find that the loggerhead bycatch has not been addressed.

Photo: Mike Tork, NOAA

Photo: Mike Tork, NOAA

For the moment, as we reported earlier this week, Mexican officials — at least publicly — don’t seem inclined to press for turtle protection. On April 30, senior Mexican officials challenged years of peer-reviewed studies demonstrating that the recent spike in loggerhead deaths in the region was from gillnets set on the bottom off the Pacific coast. They were quoted in Mexican newspapers as saying that toxic algae blooms could be to blame.

Our goal in the film is to offer an objective exploration of issues and options in the region. “¡Viva La Tortuga! Meshing Conservation and Culture in Magdalena Bay” will have its premiere on May 7 and 8 (in Pleasantville and New York City).

We hope the film will help clarify steps that can be taken now to protect turtles while sustaining the economies of fishing communities in Mexico’s Baja region.

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