Raleigh, N.C. — An environmental group has settled a lawsuit against the state over fishing practices that caused the deaths of federally protected sea turtles, officials said Thursday.
The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center filed suit in February against the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission and the Division of Marine Fisheries to stop the state from authorizing the use of gill nets in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Sea turtles caught in the nets are trapped underwater, and they typically drown or suffer severe lacerations while struggling to free themselves, officials said.
The settlement agreement provides for new rules governing gill-net fishing practices to minimize the incidental catch of sea turtles by the nets, officials said.
“This settlement recognizes the cultural importance of traditional ways of life in North Carolina’s fishing community,” Michelle Nowlin, supervising attorney for the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, which represented the Beasley Center, said in a statement.
“We don’t want the fishermen of North Carolina or the sea turtles to become extinct, and these measures will allow both to exist in harmony," Nowlin said. "We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the state and fishing interests to reach an amicable resolution of the center’s claims.”
The new rules adopted by the Marine Fisheries Commission as part of the settlement include the following:
- Limits on the size and type of gill nets allowed and the time frame in which they can be deployed
- An enhanced “observer” program, with more observers on the water and a new certification program for volunteer observers
- An exemption for Currituck Sound and parts of Albemarle Sound, where sea turtle presence has not been confirmed, pending further scientific study
- A committee appointed by the commission and the Beasley Center to advise state authorities on issues surrounding sea turtle protection