Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; Sea Turtle Conservation
NMFS issues this final rule to require sea turtle conservation measures for all sea scallop dredge vessels fishing south of 41[deg] 9.0' N. latitude from May 1 through November 30 each year. All vessels with a sea scallop dredge and that are required to have a Federal Atlantic sea scallop fishery permit, regardless of dredge size or vessel permit category, must modify their dredge(s) when fishing south of 41[deg] 9.0' N. latitude, from the shoreline to the outer boundary of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This action is necessary to help reduce mortality and injury to endangered and threatened sea turtles in scallop dredge gear and to conserve sea turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Any incidental take of threatened sea turtles in sea scallop dredge gear in compliance with this gear modification requirement and all other applicable requirements will be exempted on the ESA's prohibition against takes.