PIFSC Sea Turtle Longline Research EA June 1, 2009
Pacific leatherback sea turtles off the coast of California is currently under consideration. Any research conducted within critical habitat designated in the future will require appropriate compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Therefore, this issue will not be considered further in this PEA.
Mediterranean monk seal: The Mediterranean monk seal is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and is listed on Appendix I of CITES. Only 250 to 300 individuals remain in the northeastern Mediterranean Sea, mainly at remote locations in the Ionian and Aegean Seas and the Cicilian Basin (two other small populations exist off Portugal and northwestern Africa). Based on a review of the literature, a questionnaires of professional fishers, and necropsies, only one Mediterranean monk seal was known to become entangled in longline gear, and that juvenile animal released itself. Entanglement in static gill nets is the highest source of fishing-related mortality (Karamanlidis et al. 2008). However, the FSBAD program using modified gear would reduce the risk of interacting with a Mediterranean monk seal further. Therefore, this issue will not be considered further.
Hawaiian monk seal: The Hawaiian monk seal is listed as endangered per the US Endangered Species Act. Most of the extant Hawaiian monk seals live in the NWHI, but numbers are increasing in the Main Hawaiian Islands. The number of sightings tends to decrease moving to the southeast along the MHI island chain toward the islands with higher levels of development and human densities and activities. On all islands, seals tend to frequent remote areas where human presence or access is limited, although individual seals may use public beaches or become habituated to human presence and even interaction in the MHI. In the MHI, monk seals are in the nearshore waters where pelagic longline fishing does not occur.
A total of 38 seals have been observed with embedded hooks in the MHI during 1982 through 2006 (National Marine Fisheries Service unpublished data). For most of the interactions, the hooks were not always recovered, and it was not possible to attribute each hooking event to a specific fishery. It is possible that some of the hookings occurred in recreational fisheries. Since the 50 nm buffer around the NWHI was established, prohibiting longline fishing within the buffer, no interactions with Hawaiian monk seals and longline fisheries have been recorded (B. Antonelis, PIFSC, per. comm. July 2008).
In recent years, under the current program, there have been few instances of monk seals observed interacting or having interacted with fishing gear. NMFS has been and continues to be increasingly successful in identifying and dehooking seals with embedded hooks around the MHI.
It is not expected that Hawaiian monk seals would be associated with any open ocean areas within which field trials or domestic or foreign longline fishing tests would be conducted using modified gear. Therefore, the existing and proposed actions would have no effect on the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. This was also determined by NMFS in the Biological Opinion for the proposed Amendment 18 (NMFS 2008a). This issue will not be considered in detail in this PEA.