Posted by admin | 11.15.2011 | Turtle Talk

Will new gear result in safer turtles?

One of the greatest threats facing sea turtles is their deadly interactions with fishing gear. Any student who has volunteered at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital has seen this first hand. Two new gear devices, aimed at different fisheries, seek to minimize bycatch – allowing fishermen to maintain their livelihoods and sea turtles to maintain their lives.

The first gear change is a new, mandated scallop dredge on the East Coast from New England to North Carolina. Last month, the New England Fishery Management Council called for the implementation of dredges with fewer bars (to keep turtles from getting stuck) and a special deflection device (to keep them from getting into the nets). The changeover must take place by March 2013, though many scallop fishermen are not happy about it. They claim that the new dredges reduce their catch, force them to use more fuel, and are unnecessary since changes implemented five years ago already reduced their bycatch. And they’re expensive – at least $4,000 for a single dredge.

The other gear change is voluntary in nature. An Australian tuna fisherman, Hans Jusseit, has designed a new tuna hook for the longline fishery that comes with a shield to prevent turtles and seabirds from becoming inadvertently hooked and subsequently drowned. This shield of the “smart tunahook” guards the barb and bait until it falls below a certain depth, at which point the shield detaches and falls to the ocean floor. The designer claims that this shield will rust away within a year. The guarded hook only costs 20 cents, but since longline fishing fleets set thousands of hooks on each set, the cost and waste can certainly add up.

For years fishermen have been tracking the tasty treats of the ocean – shrimp, scallops, tuna, etc. – and resulting in billions of tons of bycatch, some of which are endangered and threatened species. While new gear and innovation are always appreciated, it may be time to simply turn down these tasty morsels, starting at your own table.