UN agency draws up guidelines to avoid killing endangered turtles in fishing

22 December 2004

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will soon start working on a series of guidelines to reduce accidental sea turtle deaths in fishing by promoting the wider use of new technologies, such as hooks and bait that do not snare the endangered creatures, the agency announced today.

The guidelines will be based on recommendations drawn up by a group of 28 countries and FAO at a technical meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, organized earlier this month by the agency's Fisheries Department.

"It is encouraging to see consensus gathering behind a shared vision for how responsible fisheries can contribute to conserving marine turtles, a vision that reflects the tenets of FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries," the Rome-based agency's Assistant Director-General for Fisheries, Ichiro Nomura, said.

The FAO will begin producing bi-annual reports to provide updates on the status of sea turtles stocks as well as on progress in reducing fisheries-related impacts on turtles.

It will also assist governments in assessing sea turtle-fisheries interactions and putting appropriate management measures in place - with a special focus on assisting developing countries, which often lack the technical capacity or financial resources needed to undertake this work.

The Bangkok meeting discussed the use new kinds of fishing gear to prevent so-called by-catch. The turtle stocks most affected by long-line fishing are loggerheads in the north and south Pacific, leatherbacks in the eastern Pacific, and loggerhead and green turtles in the Mediterranean. A number of simple measures have already proven helpful, such as replacing traditional j-style hooks with circle hooks, which are not easily swallowed by turtles. More careful selection of bait to avoid those favoured by turtles and greater attention to the depth at which hooks are set can also help.

Closer to shore, the group recommended that countries use Turtle Excluder Devices in all bottom trawl shrimp fisheries where significant encounters with endangered sea turtles are known to occur, and that more information be collected on interactions with other types of coastal gear like gillnets, for which information is still very poor.

For purse seine fishing, the group said that practices should be altered where necessary - for example, boats should avoid encircling turtles.

These small changes to accommodate fishing with turtle behaviour can go a long way to reducing by-catch without adversely affecting fishers' livelihoods. FAO estimates that world-wide, some 38 million people receive direct employment or income from fisheries and aquaculture.