On 2 December 2004, delegates attending a Technical Consultation organized under the auspices of the FAO reached agreement on a useful set of Guidelines to Reduce Sea Turtle Mortality in Fishing Operations.
The meeting was very relevant to the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU, and a number of points raised by the IOSEA Secretariat found their way in the Guidelines. The final product is perfectly complementary to the provisions of the IOSEA Conservation and Management Plan.
The Guidelines cover such matters as: (1) appropriate handling and release of incidentally caught turtles; (2) best practices in coastal trawl, purse seine, and longline fishing operations; (3) assessment and monitoring of by-catch; (4) necessary additional research and information exchange; (5) education and training; (6) capacity-building; (7) reporting; and (8) consideration of other aspects of sea turtle conservation.
The preamble to the Guidelines, which are voluntary in nature and non-binding, notes that they are global in scope, but that national, subregional and regional diversity – including cultural and socio-economic differences – are to be taken into account in their implementation.
The Guidelines are intended to serve as input to the preparation of broader FAO Technical Guidelines, as well as “to offer guidance to the preparation of national or multilateral fisheries management measures allowing for the conservation and management of sea turtles.” They will be tabled at the Twenty-sixth session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI), which takes place in Rome in March 2005.
Although participation in the Technical Consultation was somewhat modest (28 FAO members participated, together with a handful of intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations), regional representation was adequate and the discussions were substantive. The meeting was ably chaired by Mr. David Hogan (United States focal point to the IOSEA MoU).
The interventions of a number of delegations revealed that the problem of turtle by-catch in fisheries, in and around the IOSEA region, is beginning to be taken seriously.
Australia noted the successful introduction of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in its prawn trawl fishery, with the strong involvement of industry. Australia had benefited from research undertaken previously in the United States, and had demonstrated economic benefits of using TEDs. It was proposed that a similar process could be used to mitigate the effects of other fishing techniques, such as pelagic longlines.
The United States had conducted extensive experimentation into various mitigation measures. They drew attention, in particular, to the successful results achieved by using large (18/0) circle hooks with an offset of 10 degrees or less, in combination with whole fish bait.
The Japanese delegation also reported on promising results in relation to the use of circle hooks, appropriate bait type, and depth of sets. Research was continuing on gear modification and the effectiveness of circle hooks. The relevance of hook size and bait type to catch of target species needed to be studied by region and species. Japan had also conducted research into post-hooking mortality, and was experimenting with modifications to other gear types, such escape gates in bag nets. They emphasized also the need to consider also the socio-economic impacts of introducing various mitigation measures.
The delegation of the Republic of Korea encouraged the gradual expansion of newly introduced gear in parallel with ongoing research into mitigation measures, and promoted the exchange of information through FAO and Regional Fisheries Bodies. They reported that Korea was considering using circle hooks on some vessels in the coming year.
Though only a first step in what is sure to be a long process of introducing effective mitigation techniques worldwide to reduce the incidental catch of turtles, the Guidelines agreed in Bangkok contain the essential elements of a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem, and highlight the need to give priority to this issue.
Documentation for the Technical Consultation can be found on the FAO website: http://www.fao.org/fi/NEMS/events/detail_event.asp?event_id=15235