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Small-scale fisheries may have a significant impact on marine life. (Photo: YouTube/universityofexeter)

Small-scale fisheries a hefty threat to marine turtles: study

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011, 22:30 (GMT + 9)

New research by the University of Exeter shows that small-scale fisheries could be threatening marine life more drastically than previously thought. The findings were published this week in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology and demonstrate that tens of thousands of turtles from across the Pacific Ocean end up as the bycatch of small-scale fisheries.

Researchers focused on Peruvian fisheries and determined that thousands of sea turtles coming from nesting beaches as far away as Australia, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Galapagos may be captured yearly as bycatch while they forage in Peru's waters.

Marine turtles end up as bycatch as a result of small-scale nets and longlines. Some turtles are kept for consumption; while most are released alive, they are often injured after becoming ensnared in fishing gear.

"It is only recently that we have begun to realise that small-scale fisheries may also have a significant impact on marine life,” stated Senior author Dr Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter. “However, we were very surprised when our study revealed just how large an impact small-scale fisheries have on sea turtles."

Loggerhead, green, leatherback, olive ridley and hawksbill turtles all forage extensively in the Pacific waters around Peru.



As part of a broad international effort to evaluate the impacts of fisheries, the Exeter researchers monitored four key Peruvian fisheries to watch fishing techniques and record the number of turtles caught. According to the team, these data are crucial to devise effective conservation strategies to reverse the population declines of marine turtles and other vulnerable species.

Changes to fishing practices, such as the use of circle hooks and dehookers to line fishing and using net illumination, could help reduce sea turtle bycatch, the researchers suggested.

A turtle caught by chance is being returned to the sea. (Photo: Jeffrey Mangel, University of Exeter)

Much of Peru’s population is employed by the fishing industry.

"It is important to find solutions that can ensure the continuation of Peru's fisheries,” University of Exeter Darwin Scholar and lead author Joanna Alfaro said. “IMARPE, a Peruvian government research body, will help implement these solutions in Peru's small-scale fisheries.”

Alfaro said that the researchers have already started working with locals in Peru to try and deal with the issue of turtle bycatch.

"The findings of this study tells us that acting locally to reduce bycatch in small-scale artisanal fisheries will be essential to succeeding globally in the international effort to prevent further declines in marine biodiversity," said Dr Peter Dutton, a leading sea turtle scientist with the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) who, along with co-author Dr Jeffrey Seminoff, is working together with Peruvian and other international partners to execute recovery plans for endangered sea turtles in the Pacific.

Related articles:

-
NOAA will consider new rules to curb sea turtle deaths
-
WWF launches competition to find best bycatch reducing fishing gear 

By Natalia Real
[email protected]
www.fis.com


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