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Monday, July 11, 2011 - 12:00pm

Turtle Status In Legal Crosshairs

Conservation groups and federal fisheries managers have settled a lawsuit seeking to spur the government to protect endangered sea turtles in the Pacific.

The settlement could be a harbinger for turtles in the Atlantic.

The Pacific agreement requires the federal government to detail plans to protect the endangered leatherback sea turtle by November.

In the Atlantic, the same groups want the same officials to detail plans to protect the threatened loggerhead sea turtle by September.

Chris Pincetich of the California-based Turtle Island Restoration Network says, if the National Marine Fisheries Service doesn't act, just like turtle advocates did in the West, they're prepared to sue in the East.

"I really hope that they do see this as an impetus to meet their September deadline and maybe even come out ahead of the game, but my confidence is low," Pincetich says. "We're eager to see the outcome. And if we don't see the outcome in September, there's a good change we may show up in court again."

The groups want Atlantic loggerheads upgraded to endangered status.

A fisheries service official says, the agency still is studying the loggerhead's status and will issue a ruling -- on time -- by September.

Meanwhile, the conservation groups also are claiming victory in a judge's order, made last week, concerning loggerheads in the Gulf of Mexico.

In that ruling, a judge ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to take actions to protect loggerheads from "longline" fishing.

The Gulf loggerheads also migrate into Georgia waters, where "longline" fishing kills sea turtles along with the seafood it's designed to catch.

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