Fishing Technology That’s Letting Turtles Off the Hook

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Alternative fishing technology has been shown to save turtles while not affecting fish catches, according to a report released by WWF and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC).

The report demonstrates how changing from the classic J hook to circular hooks, providing adequate training and tools to release turtles accidentally hooked and enhancing sustainable fishing practices, can dramatically reduce incidental catch (bycatch) of marine turtles without impacting fishing activity.

“The results keep demonstrating that changing to circular hooks is the right choice, since it favours turtle conservation without having an impact on the economy of artisanal fisheries. Together with fishermen we are building a culture for sustainable fishing practices that will guarantee fish stocks in the long term,” said Moises Mug, Coordinator of the WWF Bycatch Initiative for the Eastern Pacific.

The report - Bycatch Initiative: Eastern Pacific Program, A Vehicle Towards Sustainable Fisheries - is a comprehensive analysis of data collected during four years of work in eight different countries in the Eastern Pacific - Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

“Our goal is to reduce the incidental catch of marine turtles from the long-line fishing operations without affecting the fisheries activity which is a main source of food and income for local communities,” explained Martin Hall, Principal Researcher for the IATTC.

The program was carried out with the voluntary participation of nearly 1,300 fishermen, conducting over 1,400 fishing trips on 305 artisanal fishing boats. Data gathered by independent on-board observers show an overall significant trend of bycatch reduction for both TBS (tuna, billfishes and sharks) and mahi-mahi fisheries, with reductions up to 89% in the marine turtle bycatch per thousand hooks; 95% of all turtles caught in long-line fishing were recovered alive; and circle hooks performed as well as J hooks in the catch rates of tuna, billfishes and sharks fishery.

“This programme is going beyond an initial focus of saving sea turtles from bycatch, and is creating the groundwork toward sustainable artisanal long-line fishing in the eastern Pacific,” said Amanda Nickson, Global Leader of WWF’s Bycatch Initiative.

“By working co-operatively, collecting data and learning how to improve practices, this programme is living proof that conservation and industry can work together for sustainability.”