Report Finds 42,000 Turtles Harvested Each Year by Legal Fisheries
Conservation awareness for sea turtles has made great progress recently, however the species are still under threat. Not only are hundreds of thousands of sea turtles killed each year from bycatch and illegal fishing but, in many coastal communities, sea turtles are considered a food source. Despite having spiritual or mythological importance, human populations consume both turtle eggs and meat.
A new study conducted by Blue Ventures Conservation and staff at the University of Exeter's Centre for Ecology and Conservation has found that 42 countries or territories around the world still permit the harvest of marine turtles — and estimates that more than 42,000 turtles are caught each year by these fisheries.
This research is the first to comprehensively review the number of turtles currently taken within the law and assess how this compares to other global threats to the creatures.
Frances Humber of Blue Ventures and a PhD student at the University of Exeter, who led the research, said: "This is the first study to comprehensively review the legal take of turtles in recent years, and allows us to assess the relative fisheries threats to this group of species. Despite increased national and international protection of marine turtles, direct legal take remains a major source of mortality. However, it is likely that a fraction of current marine turtle mortality take is legal, with greater threats from illegal fisheries and bycatch."
The researchers collated data for all seven species of marine turtles from over 500 publications and 150 in-country experts.
They estimate that currently more than 42,000 marine turtles are caught each year legally, of which over 80% are green turtles. Legal fisheries are concentrated in the wider Caribbean region, including several of the UKs Overseas Territories, and the Indo-Pacific region, with Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua and Australia together accounting for almost three quarters of the total.
The data indicates that since the 1980s more than 2 million turtles have been caught, although current levels are less than 60% of those in the 1980s.
Illegal fishing also continues to be a major cause of mortality, with the researchers estimating a minimum of 65,000 turtles taken from Mexico alone since the year 2000. The scale of global illegal capture is likely to be severely underreported due to the difficulties collecting information on such an activity.
The article, 'So Excellent a Fishe: A global overview of legal marine turtle fisheries' is published in the journal Diversity and Distributions.
Read more at the University of Exeter.
Turtle image via Shutterstock.