Many turtles are snared inadvertently. Peckham and his coworkers estimated the bycatch at more than 1,000 turtles per year based on their observations accompanying fishermen on day trips and surveying local beaches for washed-up turtle carcasses. Bycatch happens so commonly, Peckham said, that many locals at first didnt even realize the turtles were endangered.
By comparison, U.S. officials are so concerned about loggerhead turtles that in 2002 they shut down Hawaii's 20-boat, $55 million swordfish fleet to develop ways to avoid bycatch. The fishery reopened three years later but included an automatic cap that shuts down the season if the fleet as a whole hooks more than 17 turtles. In 2006, the cap was reached just three months into the 10-month season, Peckham said.
Loggerheads are medium-sized sea turtles whose shells reach about a meter (3.3 feet) in length. They live for 50 years or more and nest on beaches in many parts of the world, including the southeastern U.S., the Mediterranean, Oman, Australia, and Japan.
North Pacific loggerheads nest exclusively in Japan, where records from the past 50 years show they are plunging toward extinction. At some nesting beaches, numbers have dropped 50 percent to 90 percent in the last decade. Fewer than 1,500 adult females are thought to nest each year in the entire North Pacific, according to Peckham.
But in addition to those adults, there are many thousand adolescent turtles that spend several decades roaming the North Pacific--and feeding in the waters off Baja California--before beginning to breed. Losing 1,000 or more per year in Mexican waters alone is likely to put a dent in breeding numbers that will
|Contact: Hugh Powell|
University of California - Santa Cruz