WASHINGTON (CN) – The two federal agencies responsible for listing endangered and threatened species announced new regulations Tuesday that continue the Trump administration’s anti-environment agenda, according to a conservation group. The Center for Biological Diversity had petitioned for Endangered Species Act protections for several of these species.
“The Trump administration is catering to industry interests and dooming wildlife critical to the health of our environment to extinction,” CBD senior scientist Tierra Curry said. “We’ll keep fighting these wrongheaded decisions because we know Americans value our natural heritage and environmental health over short-term profits.”
The NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has determined that a petition to list a subpopulation of the Western Atlantic Leatherback Turtle as a distinct population segment or DPS, and to have the DPS listed as threatened, may be warranted after its 90-day review. The agency has therefore initiated a 12-month review. If the petitioned action is finalized, it would actually represent a downlisting for these turtles because the entire species was listed as endangered in 1970. The petition was filed by the Blue Water Fisherman’s Association. The Endangered Species Act imposes restrictions on fishery activities that might impact sea turtles, including the mandated use of turtle excluder devices in trawl fisheries, large circle hooks in longline fisheries, and area closures for gillnets.
The leatherback is regulated by the NMFS as a marine species, though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also regulates the turtles when they come ashore to lay eggs. “NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will conduct a status review of the leatherback turtle throughout its range to determine if DPSs do exist and the status of each under the ESA. NOAA Fisheries and USFWS will examine the application of the joint DPS policy in light of significant new information that has become available since the original (range wide) listing of the species. If the information indicates the existence of multiple DPSs to be considered for listing under the ESA, the status review team will analyze extinction risk for each DPS using information on demographic factors and the ESA section 4(a)(1) listing factors,” NOAA fisheries spokesperson Katherine Brogan said. Section 4(a)(1) is used to determine if a species will be listed as threatened or endangered.
Leatherbacks can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and grow up to six and half feet long. They are the largest turtle and one of the longest living reptiles in the world, according to the NMFS. Instead of a hard shell, it has a leathery carapace. Extensive efforts to mitigate fishing bycatch and to protect beach nesting sites have helped stabilize some populations of these turtles. But plastics and balloons in the oceans also threaten them, as they are mistaken for the jellyfish that is a main prey of the turtles. The agency estimates that only one in a thousand hatchlings survives.
“Protective regulations apply the protections for endangered species to threatened sea turtles. Therefore, endangered and threatened sea turtles are similarly protected under the ESA,” Brogan said. However, downlisting a species from endangered to threatened is commonly seen as a step toward eventually delisting the species, removing it from ESA protections, and threatened status also allows for “take” injury/death exceptions that are not allowed for endangered species.