Agency Must Give More Info on Turtle Tracking

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A national fisheries agency must do more to demonstrate the accuracy of its monitoring methods for safeguarding endangered sea turtles, a federal judge ruled.
     As part of its campaign to protect ocean wildlife, Oceana Inc. challenged a 2012 biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which found that Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery practices would not threaten the endangered loggerhead sea turtle populations in the Atlantic Northwest.
     U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman found the opinion sufficient to explain how the agency reached this conclusion, but he agreed with Oceana that the NMFS did not adequately explain how it determined the number of loggerheads that would die as a result of scallop fishing.
     He ordered the agency to give a more thorough explanation of its monitoring methods.
     The NMFS submitted more information, including a scatter plot, that it said better demonstrated how it monitors the number of hours the bottom-trawl vessels spend at sea using dredge fishing gear versus how many turtles the gear scoops up, according to court records. Regulators determined that about 200 of the roughly 300 turtles captured will die, and noted that improved technology could reduce that number to 122.
     But Oceana again challenged the agency, alleging that once more it has “failed to demonstrate that its monitoring methods are not arbitrary and capricious,” according to a ruling filed last week by Friedman.
     The NMFS asked the judge to block a declaration from an Oceana expert who identified gaps in the agency’s methods, as well as the parts of Oceana’s memorandum that rely on the expert, the ruling states.
     Oceana’s expert, statistician George Weaver, said that the additional information provided by the NMFS does “not provide enough or the right kind of information to determine whether dredge hours have a positive linear relationship to estimated sea turtle takes,” the court document says.
     The NMFS argued that any additional explanation of the materials it provided should come from one of its own scientists, not from an expert provided by Oceania. But Friedman said he is not persuaded by the agency’s arguments.
     “The appropriate remedy is not to strike Dr. Weaver’s declaration, but to permit NMFS to submit a declaration from its own expert to fill in or otherwise address the informational gaps in its explanation and analysis that Oceana has highlighted,” the judge wrote.
     Friedman ordered the NMFS to provide an expert declaration in response to Oceana’s challenge. The parties have until Sept. 18 to agree upon a new briefing schedule.
     The NMFS declined to comment on the ruling.

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