Sea turtles are valued by people around the world. They are a symbol of longevity, fertility, strength, and protection from harm. They are often a valuable eco-tourism attraction. In spite of this, sea turtle populations are declining due to hunting, disturbance of nesting habitat, marine pollution, predation,
and incidental catches in fishing gear, including shallow-set “pelagic” longlines, trawls, and gillnets.
This booklet presents ways to minimize interactions between turtles and pelagic longlines.
Some sea turtles you see at your fishing grounds roam over very broad areas. For instance, loggerhead sea turtles travel back and forth from their birthplace in
Japan to their feeding grounds in Mexico, and from nesting beaches in Australia to the coast of South America. If you are already taking effective steps to minimize interactions with turtles, share your good ideas regionally so that all fleets that interact with these highly migratory animals know about the best practices.
Many sea turtle populations are declining sharply. In particular, leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles may disappear from the Pacific
Ocean within the next two decades unless we reduce their mortality.
Over the past 20 years, the number of nesting leatherback and loggerhead turtles in the Pacific has dropped by 95% and 80% respectively. The killing of sea turtles in pelagic longline gear, although only part of the whole problem, is a big concern.
There is a movement to close down pelagic longline fisheries, in part because of concerns about harming sea turtles. Some longline fleets
have been banned from large areas and temporarily closed because of the capture of turtles. This may have a serious impact on the global longline industry. Longline fishermen are among the most qualified people to develop and improve methods to reduce sea turtle capture.
Fishermen and longline boat-owner and exporter associations need to take part in finding solutions to the problem by actively participating in research and commercial demonstrations, employing best practices, supporting the adoption of effective regulations, and abiding by these regulations. Otherwise, the only alternatives left to management authorities may be more restrictions, embargos, and closures.
The aim is to find effective ways to minimize interactions with turtles while maintaining the viability of pelagic longline fisheries. The pelagic longline industry is in a good position to find practical ways to minimize turtle mortality:
• Unlike some other gear types, pelagic longlines do not touch the seafloor and damage habitat;
• Longlines are generally quite selective and can be rigged to reduce bycatch; and
• Techniques for longline vessels to minimize mortality of sea turtles and seabirds are being developed
by fishermen and scientists, and employed in some fisheries.