A new report says Mexico has abandoned protection of loggerhead sea turtles

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government has largely abandoned protection and enforcement measures for loggerhead sea turtles, leading to a spike in the number of turtles being caught up and killed in fishing nets, according to a report released Monday.

The findings were announced by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, which functions as part of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement.

While the commission does not have any powers to enforce its findings, the U.S. government can demand that Mexico comply and could impose import bans on Mexican seafood if it concludes that Mexico isn’t enforcing protections.

Since 2019, by-catch quotas have been basically eliminated in Mexico, and inspections have plummeted.

“We’ve lost thousands of imperiled loggerhead sea turtles because Mexico has done almost nothing to protect them,” said Alejandro Olivera, a senior scientist and Mexico representative at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m glad the international community is finally holding the Mexican government accountable.”

Loggerhead sea turtle deaths and strandings rose in 2018, the year President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office, and have remained dizzyingly high.

At least 329 of the turtles were found dead between 2015 and 2017 in and around the Gulf of Ulloa, a prime Pacific fishing area off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. From 2018 to 2020, that number jumped to 1,360.

In the early 2000s, Mexico set a quota on the number of dead loggerheads in the area. Theoretically, when the threshold of dead turtles was reached, fishing would be suspended until the following year.

In 2023, Mexico simply eliminated that quota.

Mexico also reduced inspections to a fraction of their former numbers under López Obrador’s administration.

Between 2012 and 2017, Mexico carried out 1,542 inspection and surveillance actions around the Gulf of Ulloa. Between 2018 and 2023, that number dropped to 338.

The new report says that “Mexico’s response states that fishing is not the main cause of sea turtle mortality.” It says Mexico contends that causes include ”the presence of predators; collisions with boats; ingestion of anthropogenic waste or toxic pollutants; the nutritional conditions of specimens and populations, and various metabolic or infectious diseases.”

Mexico’s Environment Department and Navy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While experts acknowledge that a number of factors contribute to sea turtle deaths, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that “bycatch in fishing gear remains the biggest threat facing loggerheads.”

While the loggerhead is the most common sea turtle in U.S. waters and beaches, the species is considered endangered worldwide.

Fishing, unlike diseases or climate change, is something humans can directly control through the use of sea turtle-excluder devices on nets, a kind of escape opening required in relevant areas of the United States.

The real impact of fishing can’t be judged. The report found Mexican authorities haven’t filed any criminal complaints nor sought to prosecute fishing boats for killing turtles.

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