Countries agree on steps for reducing accidental deaths of endangered sea turtles in fisheries
FAO to develop policy and management guidelines, provide technical assistance
22 December 2004, Rome -- A group of 28 countries has worked with FAO to produce a set of recommendations for reducing accidental sea turtle deaths in fisheries, calling for wider use of new technologies and improvements in fishing practices, among other measures.
The group met in Bangkok from 29 November-2 December at a technical consultation organized by the UN agency's Fisheries Department.
The countries urged all FAO member states to recognise that some sea turtle stocks are at serious risk due to fishing operations and to take steps to reduce that risk, and charged FAO with developing international technical guidelines to guide governments in doing so.
Helping muster political will, one step at a time
Following the recommendations of the technical consultation, FAO will soon start working on the Guidelines for reducing sea turtle mortalities in fisheries operations, and in the meantime the consultations' recommendations will be reviewed and fine-tuned in March by the 94 countries which make up FAO's Committee of Fisheries (COFI). They will guide future work by FAO, Regional Fisheries Bodies, as well as FAO member countries.
One of FAO's roles in fisheries policymaking is to serve as an honest broker during discussions by countries with diverse perspectives and priorities, says Ichiro Nomura, FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries.
"We work with countries step by step to arrive at an inclusive understanding of problems, and to build consensus on what needs to be done to fix them," he explains. "If that happens too fast, or the interests of all countries involved are not incorporated, then we can't move forward, and the problem will remain unaddressed."
Mr Nomura adds that the recommendations made in Bangkok represent an important step forward.
"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," he says.
The Code calls for the sustainable use of aquatic ecosystems and requires that fishing be conducted "with due regard" for the environment. It also addresses biodiversity issues and conservation of endangered species and urges that countries minimize catch of non-target species, including non-fish species.
FAO to monitor status of sea turtles, provide technical assistance
Another outcome of the Bangkok meeting is that FAO will begin producing biennual reports to provide updates on the status of sea turtles stocks as well as on progress in reducing fisheries-related impacts on turtles.
The Organization was also asked to assist governments in assessing sea turtle-fisheries interactions and putting appropriate management measures in to place -- with a special focus on assisting developing countries, which often lack the technical capacity or financial resources needed to undertake such work.
New hook types and smarter fishing can help
Marine turtles regularly move from coastal waters to open seas and migrate from one region to another depending on the season or their age, meaning they interact with a range of different kinds of fishing activities.
For high-seas longline fisheries -- like those targeting swordfish and various tuna species, which have a distribution that overlaps the migration routes and feeding grounds of several turtle species -- the FAO consultation discussed the use of new kinds of fishing gear to prevent by-catch.
The turtle stocks most affected by longline fishing are loggerheads in the north and south Pacific Ocean, leatherbacks in the eastern Pacific, and loggerhead and green turtles in the Mediterranean Sea, according to a report by FAO presented at the Bangkok meeting.
A number of simple measures have already proven helpful in reducing by-catch in some longline fisheries, including the use of "circle hooks" in place of traditional "j-style" hooks. Circle hooks are not easily swallowed by turtles and reduce the probability that turtles get hooked accidentally. More careful selection of bait to avoid those favoured by turtles, greater attention to the depth at which hooks are set and to the bait "soak time" can also help.
Closer to shore, the group recommended that countries promote the use of Turtle Excluder Devices in all bottom trawl shrimp fisheries where significant interactions with endangered sea turtles are known to occur, and that more information be collected on interactions with other types of coastal gear (e.g. 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.
Wellbeing of fishing communities must be safeguarded too
Such small changes to accommodate fishing with turtle behaviour can go a long way to reducing by-catch without adversely affecting fishers' livelihoods.
Countries participating in the Bangkok consultation stressed that it is crucial that the economic impacts on fishers of any turtle conservation measures, as well as the need to provide financial incentives to encourage fishers' involvement in turtle conservation, should be considered in national management strategies.
FAO estimates that world-wide, some 38 million people receive direct employment or income from fisheries and aquaculture.
"In most cases there is no need, or reason, to close down fisheries to protect sea turtles," says Jorge Csirke, Chief of the Marine Resources Service in FAO's Fisheries Department. "The consensus in Bangkok was that a range of measures -- and for some fisheries in some places this might include partial or temporary limits on fishing activity during times when turtles are most vulnerable -- can be put into place that reduce by-catch without hurting fisher folk."
Mr Csirke added that the role of FAO is to provide scientific analysis, information, and technical advice and help build consensus regarding what is appropriate policy -- ultimately it is up to governments to choose from the range of available management measures.
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