NOAA 2001-R102
Contact: Stephanie Dorezas


An extremely high number of sea turtle strandings are causing concern among NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service officials. The preliminary data from end-of-year statistics released today show an extraordinarily high number of sea turtle strandings along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. There are many human-related factors that contribute to sea turtle deaths, but biologists note a significant number of the total strandings are being caused by fishing gear interactions.

"We are extremely concerned about the high levels of sea turtle strandings," said Bill Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries acting director. "To protect sea turtle populations for future generations, it is important that we continue maximizing our recovery efforts through communication with stakeholders to find solutions that will minimize the impacts of human interactions with sea turtles while maintaining traditional fishing opportunities."

Since 1980, the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami, Florida, has maintained the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network database. The Stranding Network, a network of private citizens, state and federal agencies from the coastal states of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, and was established to document and collect important information on sea turtles that strand along the coast.

In the year 2000 alone, the preliminary data indicate that the number of sea turtles that stranded along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico was 3,136. In previous years from 1991 through 1999, the average number of strandings for this area was 2,382 annually. The strandings had their highest increase in the mid-Atlantic states and the Gulf coast of Florida.

Many human activities contribute to strandings. Some of the turtles that strand have fishing gear such as gillnets or hooks and line attached to the carcass. Domestic and international, commercial and recreational fisheries that deploy gillnets, trawls, pots, pound nets, longlines and hook and line are all known to accidentally kill or injure turtles with their fishing gear. Dredging operations and power plants as well as boating activities are also documented to accidentally kill or injure turtles. Disturbance of nests and nesting turtles on beaches, and the harvest of adults in some nations may also impact some of the same turtles that forage in U.S. waters. Turtles may also ingest or become entangled in marine debris.

"We are actively committed to working with industry, academic, and environmental representatives, and with the international community to seek solutions to sea turtle interactions through a comprehensive approach to address all sources of sea turtle mortality in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico," said Hogarth. "Success in protecting sea turtles will depend on this active dialogue to exchange information on populations of sea turtles in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico and on developing innovative technologies and operational solutions to minimizing interactions in state and federal waters."

As another component of this comprehensive approach, NOAA Fisheries has already initiated or re-initiated formal consultation on several fisheries which incidentally kill sea turtles, including the monkfish; spiny dogfish; lobster; tilefish; and shrimp fisheries; and is developing a strategic plan and a schedule to address remaining fishery management plans as necessary. Consultations on federal activities provide a mechanism for the agency to identify impacts to turtle populations and work towards identifying measures that may be taken to reduce and minimize those impacts.

NOAA Fisheries will continue to organize and to participate in workshops to exchange the latest information on strandings and seek solutions to reduce sea turtle interactions. The agency will hold a series of regional, state and multi-state meetings over the next few months to discuss possible solutions to reduce sea turtle interactions. NOAA Fisheries held an initial workshop on January 17th - 18th, 2001, with industry, academic and environmental representatives where discussions focused on finding possible solutions to reduce sea turtle interactions with longline gear. NOAA Fisheries is also partnering with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and N.C. Sea Grant to sponsor another turtle workshop on January 25th in New Bern, N.C. As part of its spring meeting, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a multi-state agency that coordinates state fishery management issues, will discuss the status of sea turtle populations to generate possible solutions to reduce sea turtle interactions with fishing gear. Finally, NOAA Fisheries will hold a comprehensive public workshop to discuss the status of Atlantic sea turtle populations, cumulative impacts and to generate ideas on solving problems with fishing gear interactions. For more information regarding the upcoming meetings, please contact Laurie Allen at (301) 713-2239.