Research Shows Loggerhead Sea Turtles Threatened by Small-Scale Fishing Operations

Ocean Conservancy Scientist, Wallace J. Nichols and University of California-Santa Cruz researcher Hoyt Peckham found surprising results in a recent peer-reviewed loggerhead sea turtle study that Nichols and Peckham conducted over the course of 10 years. The full study will be published on October 17 in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE.

The study reveals that small-scale fishing operations are a greater threat to the survival of north Pacific loggerhead sea turtles than large industrial fishing operations. The species is seriously threatened. As The New York Times recently editorialized, “For an oceanic species such as the loggerhead, these are incredibly dangerous times. It is partly the longevity of these creatures that makes their death as bystanders among the global fishing fleets feel so tragic, a truly colossal waste of life.”

North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles travel more than 7,000 miles from Japan via Hawaii to feed and grow to maturity in Baja California Sur, Mexico, spending up to 30 years there before returning to Japan to breed. The number of nesting females in Japan has declined by 50 to 80 percent over the past 10 years. Young loggerheads spend 70 percent of their time in areas that are popular small-scale fishing locations. Small-scale fishing operations threaten the survival of these turtles because the turtles are inadvertently caught in gillnets set on the ocean bottom and long fishing lines with many hooks that can easily ensnare loggerhead sea turtles.

“Many small-scale fishing operations off the coast of Baja California, Mexico overlap with high concentrations of loggerhead turtles. The combination of the indiscriminate gillnets and long-line fishing gear and the density of loggerhead turtles results in a deadly situation for the turtles,” said Wallace J. Nichols, Ocean Conservancy Scientist. “Local efforts to educate fishermen and remove dangerous fishing gear from the water are essential to protecting this endangered species that relies on the food-rich waters in Baja California, Mexico for survival.”

While small-scale fishing operations cause great threats in Baja California, Mexico, inexpensive changes in the kind of fishing gear that even just a few fishermen use results in saving thousands of loggerhead turtles every year. Local conservation efforts are already underway to address the problem and this opportunity. Hoyt Peckham and the local Baja California conservation group, Grupo Tortuguero, with the help of Ocean Conservancy, recently worked with a local fisherman to retire dangerous long-line fishing gear to save up to 700 loggerhead sea turtles each year.

To learn more about the study that identifies the dangers of small-scale fishing on north Pacific loggerhead sea turtles, a link to the full report will be available at www.seeturtles.org on Wednesday, October 17, as will the paper, published in PLoS ONE, at http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0001041.

The New York Times published an editorial on September 27 entitled “The Plight of the Loggerhead Turtle”. The piece addresses the threats and need to protect the turtles by highlighting a federal review of loggerhead status conducted by Nichols. The editorial is available online at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/27/opinion/27thur4.html?ex=1348545600&en=2ce3867c1230a72b&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink.

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