NOAA 03-063
Contact: Susan Buchanan

NOAA News Releases 2003
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Continuing efforts to aid the recovery of sea turtle populations, a team of NOAA scientists and U.S. fishermen is developing effective ways to minimize the potential for harming or catching them in commercial longline fisheries. Fishing gear specialists working at the Pascagoula, Miss., laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) have completed the first two years of a three-year research program in cooperation with the Bluewater Fishermen’s Association. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency of the Department of Commerce.

“This program is a fine example of a cooperative effort between federal and state research organizations and private industry to solve a complex environmental problem. The positive results will ensure a healthy and richly diverse marine ecosystem,” said Bill Hogarth, director of NOAA Fisheries. “The development of effective measures to minimize sea turtle bycatch will help ensure successful turtle conservation efforts and allow valuable commercial fisheries to continue to operate.”

To date, the research – which tested five potential bycatch reduction techniques during 687 research sets on the Grand Banks in the Western North Atlantic – has indicated that longline fishermen can avoid unintentional catches of loggerhead sea turtles by reducing the time their hooks are in the water during daylight hours.

Even more impressive was the sea turtle bycatch reduction achieved by using circle hooks instead of the J hook historically used in the fishery, and by using mackerel for bait rather than squid, the primary bait used in the fishery.

The vessels reduced loggerhead sea turtle interaction by 92 percent using circle hooks with mackerel bait while actually increasing swordfish catch rates over J hooks with squid bait.

Most sea turtle deaths attributed to commercial fishing gear result when the gear is not removed from the turtle, or removed improperly. Therefore, NOAA Fisheries, private industry and commercial fishers also have developed effective tools (line cutters and dehookers) to remove hooks and line safely from sea turtles that were accidentally caught on longline gear.

The sea turtle mitigation measures tested in this study were developed by an ad hoc advisory panel consisting of gear and turtle experts from NOAA, states, universities, fishery managers, commercial fishers and vessel owners. They were based on information and data from previous workshops, research and fishers’ experience. Commercial longline vessels were contracted to conduct experiments with NOAA observers on board to collect data on the effectiveness of the mitigation measures.

The gear and techniques developed by this program are being tested in research programs in several countries, and results of this research are being used in other fisheries and countries that operate longline gear.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources and their habitat through scientific research, management and enforcement. NOAA Fisheries provides effective stewardship of these resources for the benefit of the nation, supporting coastal communities that depend upon them, and helping to provide safe and healthy seafood to consumers and recreational opportunities for the American public.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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