Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sea Turtles and the Commercial Fishing Industry

May 23 is World Turtle Day but due largely to commercial fishing many species of sea turtles are in trouble (six out of seven species are endangered). Climate change and pollution are destabilizing marine environments across the world, but fishing is by far the worst threat to sea turtles.. Turtles are being destroyed at alarming rates due to destructive fishing methods. In the US alone more than 250,000 sea turtles are accidentally captured, injured or killed by US fishermen. In 2004, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) identified more than 70 fisheries, operating in state and federal waters, as potentially harmful to sea turtles. Their fate is even worse in the national waters of other countries or in international waters.

All sea turtles are affected by commercial fisheries. Loggerheads and leatherbacks have the greatest risk because of their feeding habitats. The Census of Marine Life estimated that 90 percent of big fish have disappeared from the world's oceans due to overfishing and many species of turtles are being eradicated along with them. The most destructive form of fishing is known as bottom trawling which captures and drowns turtles (and many other species).

We need to change our fishing methods. Commercial fisheries need to employ Turtle Excluder Devices or TEDs, which are two-dimensional net inserts with large escape openings. Trawls are wide-mouthed nets that taper to a small end to hold the catch. Further, a shift by longline fleets, which positions miles of gear with one mainline and thousands of secondary lines and hooks, from "J" hooks to circle hooks to reduce the number and severity of sea turtle interactions with longline gear. Time and area closures is also an effective way to reduce the incidental catch of migrating sea turtles.

Other things that people can do:

* Show support for companies and countries employing TEDs;
* Make sure that the fish you buy from your local grocery store are caught by these turtle-friendly fisheries;
* Inform and encourage family and friends to purchase seafood from responsible fisheries.

Sea turtles are amazing creatures, they wander the vast oceans. Females return to the beach they were born on to lay their eggs, but males have no need to ever return to land. Leatherback turtles can travel 10,000 miles each year foraging for food, dive more than 1200 metres deep into the ocean, and range all the way from Chile to Alaska. They are adapted for cold water, warm-blooded, with an insulating layer of fat. Leatherbacks can get very big, one that washed up on a beach in Wales, was 2.2metres long.

Unfortunately some sea turtles eat plastic bags because they look like jellyfish. The easiest way for citizens to help turtles (apart from not using plastic bags and buying responsibly caught fish) is to protect their nesting beaches and the seas in which they swim. Perhaps the best was to protect turtles is to establish large scale marine reserves.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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Video - Using TED Fishing Nets to Save Endangered Turtles
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The State of Our Oceans: We are Headed Towards a Marine Mass Extinction
Urgent Appeal to Save our Oceans
Seven Ways to Save the Seas
The International Day for Biological Diversity 2013

World Oceans Day in America (2012)
World Oceans Day UN Panel Discussion (2011)
Report on the UN's World Water Day Panel Discussion

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