WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) – In a victory for fishermen, a federal judge in Washington has ruled that scallopers may continue to tow their dredges in a mid-Atlantic fishery where the New Bedford fleet lands approximately 80 percent of its catch.

In July, the environmental group Oceana asked U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle to temporarily close the fishery until the National Marine Fisheries Service acted to protect endangered sea turtles that migrate through the area during the spring and fall.

Loggerhead, leatherback, Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles have been caught and killed by heavy scallop dredges in the mid-Atlantic zone that stretches from Long Island, N.Y., to Cape Hatteras, N.C.

Oceana called for the fisheries service to re-evaluate how the commercial scallop fishing industry affects sea turtles and to increase the number of scientific observers who board vessels to collect catch data.

The group also filed a federal lawsuit against the service in May, claiming that it failed to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles as ordered in Amendment 10 to the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan.

On Wednesday, Huvelle denied Oceana’s motion.

Charlie Quinn, captain and owner of the scallop trawler Celtic, told the Standard-Times of New Bedford Thursday he is relieved and happy with the ruling.

“I think it is good. … It’s always a threat when they bring a lawsuit,” said Quinn. “We don’t want to catch turtles,” he said. “It does us no good to catch them.”

Quinn has been working with scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to test experimental chains that prevent sea turtles from being caught in dredges.

Scalloper captains began efforts to protect sea turtles four years ago when they began appearing in scallop dredges.

In 2003, the chain gear was tested during 15 experimental fishing trips from July to November, according to a research report. During the 2,500 observed tows, no turtles were caught in dredges that were rigged with turtle chains. Seven turtles were caught in regular dredges that were towed at the same time, gear technologist Ronald J. Smolowitz told The Standard-Times in July. Smolowitz estimated that 100 turtles are caught during the industry’s 30,000 days at sea; about 25 percent of them die, the others are released.

After Wednesday’s ruling, Oceana campaign director Dave Allison denounced the judge’s decision.

“Americans will lose their right to have healthy oceans if the commercial fishing industry continues to be allowed to destroy threatened and endangered species such as sea turtles,” Allison said.

AP-ES-08-20-04 0908EDT

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