By Isabelle Lai
PETALING JAYA, Malaysia — Fishermen should not fear surrendering turtle bycatch to the authorities for rehabilitation and healing as they could help save lives, said sea turtle expert Dr Nicolas J. Pilcher.
Many fishermen were often unsure of what to do should they find a turtle accidentally caught (turtle bycatch) in their fishing nets, said the Marine Research Foundation (MRF) executive director.
“In Malaysia, it is illegal to kill a sea turtle. So if a turtle comes up that is alive in your fishing net, it would be a really good time for fishermen to bring it to the authorities,” he said.
Dr Pilcher confirmed that fishermen would not get into trouble by doing so, pointing out that the Fisheries Department had a very proactive turtle conservation programme.
“Accidental capture of sea turtles is probably the biggest problem in South-East Asia,” he said.
Dr Pilcher was currently working with fishing communities in Terengganu, Tioman, Sabah and Sarawak to help fishermen understand how they could help preserve the sea turtle population.
He also cautioned against over-collection of turtle eggs in areas where populations had experienced drastic decline.
Dr Pilcher pointed out that leatherback turtles in Terengganu had gone extinct due to 100% collection of eggs for two generations for commercial sales purposes.
“If the turtle population is doing very well, I don't see a big problem in taking some eggs to eat.
“But we should not be collecting the eggs of declining populations because we are not giving them the chance to recover,” he said.