A new report released by Oceana today concludes that although sea turtles have survived mass extinctions, they are simply ill-equipped to withstand the threats posed by destructive fishing gear, especially in trawl fisheries. Trouble for Turtles: Trawl Fishing in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico shows that an estimated 770 sea turtles are caught annually in Mid-Atlantic trawl fisheries alone.
Without an avenue for escape, sea turtles are likely to drown when captured in trawl gear. Luckily for sea turtles, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) developed Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) to help address this issue. However, NMFS has failed to require the use of TEDs in most trawl fisheries despite proof that they lead to a 97 percent reduction in sea turtle entrapment. And even with TEDs, sea turtles are still stressed, injured, harmed and even killed.
"Many believe that sea turtle bycatch in trawls was resolved with the requirement of TEDs in shrimp trawl nets nearly two decades ago, but that's just not the case," said Elizabeth Griffin, marine wildlife scientist at Oceana. "In order to protect and restore sea turtle populations, the government must require all trawl fisheries operating in areas with sea turtles to use properly sized TEDs."
"The U.S. Government must take immediate action to drastically reduce the impact of trawl gear on sea turtles," said Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana. "We simply can not sit around and watch while species like the loggerhead go extinct." Over the past decade, loggerhead sea turtle nesting in Florida has declined by approximately 50 percent.
Oceana's report finds that although TED use has been shown to reduce sea turtle mortality in trawl fisheries, the majority are still not required to use them. The report identifies three steps, at a minimum, that must be taken promptly if we expect to protect and restore sea turtle populations:
A copy of Trouble for Turtles along with a petition signed by more than 7,000 concerned citizens was sent to President Bush this week asking for immediate action to better protect sea turtles.
For more information about Oceana's campaign to protect sea turtles, please visit http://oceana.org/seaturtles.
Sea turtle photos and video are avilable at www.oceana.org/sea-turtles/photos-and-video/.