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An endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle was discovered dead off the Farralon Islands near San Francisco

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife just announced that a marine warden discovered an endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle dead — drowned by old crab-fishing gear left off the Farralon Islands near San Francisco. Suzanne Potter of California News Service has this story.

Today, the agency's Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group is meeting to discuss how to respond. Geoff Shester with the nonprofit Oceana says sea turtles and whales can get trapped in vertical ropes that extend from a buoy on the water's surface to the trap on the ocean floor.

"When they do encounter something like a rope, they often spin around in circles and kind of do some twists to try to get unwrapped. But unfortunately, they start to panic and can even get more entangled. The rope was wrapped around it. So, it was essentially pinned and was underwater, so then, it couldn't get to the surface to breath or escape."

This year's crab fishing season has already been delayed twice and now could be pushed into the new year. Federal research shows that Pacific leatherback sea turtles have declined off California by 90 percent over the last 30 years and are at risk of going extinct due to gear entanglements, loss of nesting habitat, and poaching.

Shester wants the state to approve newer, ropeless pop-up gear that can sit on the ocean floor until the fishing crew returns.

"We're calling on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to strengthen those rules, both for lost gear and also to authorize the use of pop-up gear, so that there are more options for fishermen to stay on the water and fish in a whale- and turtle-safe method."

The state estimates that Dungeness crab fishing crews lose between 7-thousand and 14-thousand traps each fishing season, and fewer than five percent are retrieved.

Suzanne Potter is a journalist with 30 years of experience as a reporter for TV, radio and print news. She spent 15 years as a local TV news reporter in Palm Springs, CA and Providence, RI. She earned a B.A. in Mass Communications from UC Berkeley and spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris. She lives in Palm Desert, CA, is married with four children and is a longtime leader with the Boy Scouts of America.