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Alejandro Olivera Headshot

Trying to Block the Sun With a Finger

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It is deplorable that the Mexican authorities have and continue to deny the massacre of the North Pacific loggerhead turtles. Walk along one beach in Baja and you will find hundreds of slaughtered loggerheads stranded every summer. The Mexican government agency PROFEPA claims the cause of these deaths are "unknown," but it doesn't take a detective to solve this crime. The lack of enforcement and oversight permits unselective fishing practices that slaughter more harmless loggerheads in Baja than anywhere else in the North Pacific. Meanwhile, the Mexican government absurdly claims that the turtles die because they're tired from their long migrations from Japan to the Baja California Peninsula coast.

International teams of scientists in 2007 systematically and conclusively determined that sea turtle mortality results from entanglement in fishing gears. Gillnets illegal in their length, number and mesh size are used in the loggerheads' juvenile foraging hotspot without any regulation; sea turtles get trapped, cannot swim to the surface and drown.

While waiting for the protections they deserve, loggerhead turtles continue to die in record numbers. This year alone, loggerhead turtle strandings were 600 percent higher than the 10-year average. Nearly 500 loggerheads were stranded along a 26 mile shoreline just during the month of July, the highest stranding rates ever documented. This mass stranding has occurred each year for more than a decade thanks to the government's negligence and active denial of the problem.

According to a meta-analysis led by Dr. Bryan Wallace of the Oceanic Society, along with an expert panel of international specialists from the IUCN, the North Pacific loggerhead ranked among the 11 most endangered turtle populations in the world. The unprecedented, mass bycatch mortality of 2012 vaults the population toward the top of the list.

North Pacific loggerheads are born in Japan and feed in U.S. and Mexican waters, extending this problem across international waterways. Japan and Mexico are both members of the Convention on Biological Diversity, so both nations are responsible for not only conserving their own environment and natural resources but also that of other states and areas beyond their jurisdiction.

The U.S. population is strictly protected. The government requires the entire Hawaii longline fleet to suspend fishing if the fleet exceeds the limit of 17 turtles caught per year, while in Baja that number of turtles is regularly caught in a single boat in a single day. In Japan the nesting beaches of loggerheads are well protected. Meanwhile in Mexico, a veritable loggerhead massacre is allowed each summer.

It's time for Mexico's leaders to live up to their international and constitutional commitments. Ramón Corral Ávila, National Commissioner of Aquaculture and Fisheries and Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, have been allowing turtle deaths to happen by not enforcing current regulations; they should be held responsible. As President Felipe Calderón finishes his administration, he should remember that, according to Mexican legislation, appointed fishery and environmental authorities are still responsible for all the errors they have made.

The new Mexican administration should commit to protect the loggerhead turtle by enforcing current regulations, and prioritizing sustainable fishing practices. We won't accept new rounds of useless meetings. We demand clear conservation action and a transition program for local fisherman to fish selectively and sustainably, ensuring their good catches while minimizing loggerhead entanglement.

This is a problem that can be solved. Baja can maintain a strong tourism and fishing industry without harming our treasured loggerhead turtles. The new administration needs to restore order to the area and ensure that the loggerhead turtle, the animal that connects Japan, Hawaii, and Mexico, is protected.

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