Commercial fishing threatens the sea turtles in the Mediterranean, scientists warn

2010 - 04 - 07
Commercial fishing threatens the sea turtles in the Mediterranean, scientists warn

The numbers of sea turtles caught in commercial fishing over the last 20 years may be in the millions. This figure is derived from a study comparing the worldwide “by-catches” of large-scale fishing vessels. Mediterranean sea turtles are at risk as well.

Scientists reported their conclusions in the Conservation Letters journal. The analysis summarises data provided by the governmental committees contained in the technical reports and presented at individual symposiums published from 1990 to 2008. The information obtained was verified by observation directly onboard fishing vessels or through interviews with fishermen. At the same time, the study does not include data on recreational fishing.

By-catches in fishing are currently the greatest worldwide threat to sea turtle populations. Numerous animals drown in nets or soon die due to their injuries.

A total of six out of seven sea turtle species are currently listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.

Scientists obtained information on about 85,000 turtles that were trapped in nets from 1990 to 2008. And yet, these verified data cover less than one percent of the fishing fleet catches. “The realistic estimates of turtle catches are at least twice as high,” says Bryan Wallace, the lead study author, science adviser for Conservation International’s sea turtle program.

The four regions where turtles are most at risk include the Mediterranean and northern Adriatic Sea, the Pacific, and the southwestern and northwestern Atlantic.

Measures that could help the turtles include, for example, the use of round hooks and fish bait for longline fishing or safety openings in trawls that turtles can pass through when they end up inside the net. Also useful is an application which, based on information on water temperature and other conditions, signals turtle locations to the fishermen.

Other approaches include the creation of new marine protected areas where fishing would be prohibited. “Sea turtles are one of the most popular animal species in the Mediterranean. For example, on the Greek island of Zakynthos, turtles are one of the best-known attractions. European countries on the Mediterranean coast should therefore pay much greater attention to their protection and designation of underwater protected areas,” said Director Dalibor Dostal of the European Wildlife conservation organization. This would preserve the biodiversity of species and promote healthy fish populations.

Photo: Profimedia

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