DURHAM, N.C. The number of sea turtles inadvertently snared by commercial fishing gear over the past 20 years may reach into the millions, according to the first peer-reviewed study to compile sea turtle bycatch data from gillnet, trawl and longline fisheries worldwide.
The study, which was published online April 6 in the journal Conservation Letters, analyzed data compiled from peer-reviewed papers, government reports, technical reports, and symposia proceedings published between 1990 and 2008. All data were based on direct onboard observations or interviews with fishermen. The study did not include data from recreational fishing.
Six of the world's seven species of sea turtles are currently listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
"Direct onboard observations and interviews with fishermen indicate that about 85,000 turtles were caught between 1990 and 2008. But because these reports cover less than one percent of all fleets, with little or no information from small-scale fisheries around the world, we conservatively estimate that the true total is at least two orders of magnitude higher," said Bryan Wallace, lead author of the new paper.
Wallace is the science advisor for the Sea Turtle Flagship Program at Conservation International and an adjunct assistant professor at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. Most of his co-authors are researchers at Duke's Center for Marine Conservation.
Their global data review revealed that the highest reported bycatch rates for longline fisheries occurred off Mexico's Baja California peninsula, the highest rates for gillnet fishing took place in the North Adriatic region of the Mediterranean and the highest rates for trawls occurred off the coast of Uruguay.
When bycatch rates and amounts of observed fishing activity for all three gear types were combined and ranked across regions, four
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