Here’s the recipe for saving sea turtles from drowning in the longline fishery. Switch out the classic J hooks for circular hooks. Add a little training and the tools to release turtles accidentally hooked.
A new report by the World Wildlife Fund and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) finds the new hooks dramatically reduce the bycatch of marine turtles without impacting fishing activity. They analyzed 4 years of data from 8 Eastern Pacific countries: Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. They found up to 89% reductions in the marine turtle bycatch per thousand hooks, and that 95% of all turtles caught in longline fishing were recovered alive. Circle hooks performed as well as J hooks in the catch rates of tuna, billfishes and sharks fishery.
Okay, well the tuna, billfishes, and sharks fisheries compose a whole other thorny issue. One as deserving of solutions as the sea turtles. The big fish of the sea are in superserious trouble and also need a reprieve from the hooks, like, right this second. . .
But in terms of this sea turtle story. . . “Our goal is to reduce the incidental catch of marine turtles from the long-line fishing operations without affecting the fisheries activity which is a main source of food and income for local communities,” explained Martin Hall, Principal Researcher for the IATTC.
So, thumbs up on the turtle hooks. Thumbs up on helping local communities with food and income issues. Big thumbs down on continuing to overfish the big fish.
Julia Whitty is Mother Jones’ environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.