Renewing its call to the Atlantic commercial longline fishing industry to use tested, environmentally-friendly “circle hooks” rather than the obsolete “J hooks” currently in use, international ocean conservation group Oceana today released disturbing footage of threatened loggerhead sea turtles caught and painfully hooked, one in the stomach, by a swordfish boat off the southern coast of Spain.
Oceana is working on both sides of the North Atlantic to determine the scope of turtle catches by commercial pelagic longliners, the impact on the turtle population, and ways to reduce that impact.
As part of its work, Oceana recently sent marine biologist Charlotte Hudson to Spain to see first-hand the result of commercial swordfish fishermen fishing with J hooks – hooks shaped like the letter “J” which have been blamed for countless turtle deaths. Studies of fishermen using circle hooks, named for their circular G shape, have shown far less interaction with sea turtles. After only a day onboard, the crew caught a loggerhead sea turtle, a species considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The hook was lodged in the turtle’s stomach, where it’s nearly impossible to remove. Such accidental captures frequently leave turtles dead or dying.
“Many loggerheads are born on America’s East Coast beaches, from North Carolina to Florida. They go on a long swim to Europe using the Gulf Stream as their highway, and then come back to breed and lay their eggs in the beaches of their birth,” said Hudson.
It is while swimming off U.S. and European coasts that many turtles swallow bait on J hooks meant for commercially valuable fish.
“This means that many of sea turtles are getting injured and killed before they ever have the chance to reproduce, and the species is paying a price,” Hudson said.
That price could be extinction.
“It’s estimated that at least a half-million sea turtles are caught by different gear and different fleets worldwide every year,” said Xavier Pastor, vice president of Oceana, Europe. “It’s likely that with this level of catch, in a few years we’ll see a collapse of the sea turtle population. In the U.S., scientists have demonstrated that a change in the shape of the hooks used in the longline fishery can reduce the bycatch of sea turtles by 90 percent.”
Oceana is working in both American and Europe to reduce sea turtle bycatch by advocating new gear technology and fishing practices.
Video footage of the turtles being captured can be viewed on the Oceana website at http://www.oceana.org/videos/oceanaturtlebycatch.ram.
A high resolution, downloadable version for posting on news websites can be accessed at http://oceana.org/uploads/video/TurtleBycatch_dnl.rm.