Selected tag(s): sea turtles

Saving Fishing Jobs and Sea Turtles

Heather Paffe, EDF Oceans' regional director for the Gulf of MexicoGulf of Mexico fisheries regulators recently closed down longline fishing (7-9 mile fishing lines with hundreds of hooks) in the Gulf of Mexico off west Florida for six months because the government reported that more threatened sea turtles were being caught than expected. The result of the closure is that turtles will be saved, but jobs will be lost.

On top of this six month closure, the Gulf Council will make a decision later this week on additional measures the longline fishermen will have to take to avoid interacting with sea turtles. Again, the good news is that turtles will be saved and the bad news is that jobs will be lost.

Vertical fishing gearIn the midst of all this, our very own Dave McKinney came up with a solution to save turtles and jobs. We’ve started a grant program that provides financial assistance to longline fishermen who convert to vertical gear, which causes far fewer turtle interactions. We have already received almost 30 applications and the new gear has already been put on more than five vessels.  

As a result, turtles are safer, fishermen have jobs and we’re thrilled because financially stable fisheries are important for achieving our conservation goals. Florida’s U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have agreed and have given us kudos for finding the ways that work.

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Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Rebound: A Short History

By Ryan Ono, Gulf Oceans Program Research and Outreach Associate

Until half a century ago, tens of thousands of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles would surge onto Mexican beaches in a few large nesting events to lay their eggs. (One was estimated having up to 40,000 turtles!)

But, at the turn of the 20th century turtle meat and eggs became popular delicacies, causing large numbers of turtles to be harvested at sea and many eggs to be gathered from beaches. Additionally in the 1940s and 1950s, numerous sea turtles were caught in the nets of the rapidly expanding shrimp fishery.

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These pressures caused the Kemp’s ridley population to crash – almost to the point of extinction, when nesting events would number only one or two thousand turtles.

In the 1960s and 1970s, joint U.S.-Mexican efforts to revive turtle populations re-established a secondary nesting site in the U.S. to protect the eggs from poaching and damage caused by humans.  Hatchery and “head-start” programs were also started. The head-start program raised turtles for a few years until they were big enough to be released into the wild – about the size of a dinner plate.

In the 1990s, EDF’s Michael Bean and Pam Baker helped the recovery effort by fighting for gear modifications to all shrimping boats called turtle excluder devices, or “TEDs,” which reduced the number of turtles caught.  They also worked for shrimping closures off the Texas coast during nesting seasons.

As recently as eight years ago the number of endangered Kemp’s Ridley turtle nests found on Texas shores numbered fewer than ten.  Since 2004 however, there have been consecutive record breaking years and in 2008 a total of 195 Kemp’s Ridley turtle nests were found. 

This year’s total stands currently at 154 nests and is on track to surpass last year’s number, with two months of the season left to go.  Check back at the end of the summer for an update! 

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