Bigger swordfishing hooks kill fewer turtles

The lives of many rare and endangered sea turtles may be spared if fishermen trolling for swordfish would attach bait to circular hooks that are too large for turtles to swallow instead of the smaller hook now in use, according to a new report co-sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

From United Nations:
Bigger swordfishing hooks kill fewer turtles, UN says

The lives of many rare and endangered sea turtles may be spared if fishermen trolling for swordfish would attach bait to circular hooks that are too large for turtles to swallow instead of the smaller hook now in use, according to a new report co-sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In the report, called ”Catch Fish Not Turtles Using Longlines,” UNEP, in collaboration with several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focusing on fishery and marine research, says some present-day turtles once lived alongside the dinosaurs about 200 million years ago and still can travel thousands of miles between feeding and nesting grounds.

”Studies, using so-called ‘circle hooks’ baited with mackerel, found that around 90 per cent fewer leatherback turtles and over 60 per cent fewer loggerhead turtles were caught compared to the use of traditional J-shaped hooks baited with squid,” it says.

The booklet not only advises on ways to reduce the capture of turtles, but recommends methods of handling snagged turtles, removing any hooks they may have swallowed and nursing them back to health.

”If we are to ensure the survival of sea turtles well into the future, action needs to be taken now to protect them in the oceans and at nesting sites,” UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said. ”The tragic truth is that many species are in precipitous decline. Some experts predict that leatherbacks and loggerheads may become extinct in the Pacific Ocean within two decades.”

The report stresses the need to balance the economic demands of the fishing industry against the imperative of reducing the loss of biodiversity by 2010 as well as the financial needs of tourism investors offering turtle-watching.

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