Action is urgently needed to prevent the loss of leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles from the Pacific Ocean. Reducing bycatch of sea turtles in pelagic longline fisheries may contribute to their recovery.

A study by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council indicates that new measures have been extremely effective at reducing interactions with endangered sea turtles in the Hawaii-based longline swordfish fishery.

Regulations designed to reduce turtle interactions came into effect for the Hawaii-based longline swordfish fishery in May 2004. The regulations changed the type and size of fishing hook and bait used by the Hawaii-based longline swordfish fleet from using a J-shaped hook with squid bait to a wider circle-shaped hook with fish bait.

There were significant reductions in sea turtle and shark capture rates and reduced proportion of turtles that ingest hooks, which may increase post release survival prospects, without comprising target species catches. Capture rates of leatherback and loggerhead turtles declined significantly by 82.8 percent and 90.0 percent, respectively, after the turtle regulations came into effect. The swordfish catch rate, the target species of this fishery, was significantly higher by 16.0 percent. The shark catch rate was 36 percent lower.

Kitty Simonds, Executive Director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, explained, “Sea turtles are among the most extraordinary creatures on the planet and are valued by people around the world. In spite of this, sea turtle populations are declining due to numerous threats. This new study confirms that the Hawaii-based longline swordfish fishery has achieved significant reductions in turtle interactions. This is a model fishery, and we are taking steps to transfer these effective and commercially viable turtle bycatch solutions to other fisheries. However, unless initiatives to address the more serious threats to sea turtle populations are effective, efforts to minimize interactions in longline fisheries will not be enough.”

Paul Dalzell, Senior Scientist of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and co-author of the report, said: “Sea turtle numbers have declined dramatically in recent years due to the combined effect of many threats, including mortality in fishing gear. Whether some populations survive the next few decades is an open question. We are doing our part to address this crisis.”

The report Efficacy and commercial viability of regulations designed to reduce sea turtle interactions in the Hawaii-Based Longline Swordfish Fishery is available online at www.wpcouncil.org.

It can be ordered from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, 1164 Bishop Street, Suite 1400, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813 USA; Email: egilman@blueocean.org


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