A report published in the journal Biological Conservation estimated there has been a 90% decline in accidental sea turtle deaths in U.S. coastal waters since 1990. The use of turtle excluder devices in fishing nets used by trawlers, circle hooks for longlines, and government regulations protecting turtles are mainly believed to be responsible for the dramatic decline in turtle deaths. Turtle excluder devices are sort of like trap doors in fishing nets that allow turtles to escape.
Before such actions were taken, over 70,000 turtles were being killed each year in U.S. waters. Now that number has dropped to an estimated 4,600.
“Our findings show that there are effective tools available for policy makers and fishing industries to reduce sea turtle bycatch, as long as they are implemented properly and consistently.” said Elena Finkbeiner, lead author of the report. Duke University and Conservational International worked together to analzye turtle bycatch data compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Loggerheads, leatherbacks, hawksbills, olive ridleys, Kemp’s ridleys and green sea turtles are all either threatened or endangered species. Accidental catches in fishing nets (bycatch) is the main threat to their survival.
Some fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico still refuse to install turtle excluder devices, or tie them shut, saying they also allow shrimp to escape. TEDs are mandatory, and yet it is difficult to enforce the rule, with a large fleet of shrimpers traveling many miles across the Gulf. Turtle excluder devices are nearly 100% effective when installed and allowed to function properly. Shrimp trawls in the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern U.S. waters accounted for about 98% of the turtle deaths.
Another remaining problem is that bycatch limits are currently determined locally, and so there isn’t an official count of the impact on the entire turtle population, meaning an overall management strategy would be monitoring all the counts in relation to preserving the turtles. Local turtle bycatch limits are typically too high.
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