Marine Turtles Victims of Southeast Asian Fishing Nets: WWF

MANILA ~ Endangered marine turtles and sharks are being killed each year by Southeast Asian fishermen who throw them away as “unwanted catch,” the World Wildlife Fund said this week.

The international conservation group estimated in a new study that millions of kilograms (pounds) of marine species are caught in fishing nets and discarded every year in the so-called Coral Triangle.

The triangle, which spans the seas of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, is considered by scientists to contain the most diverse collection of marine species anywhere on earth.

It is also home to six of the world’s seven known species of marine turtles, including three that are listed as “endangered” under the so-called “Red List” of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and three on its “Critically Endangered” list, WWF said in a statement.

The study co-authored by the fund found at least 38 million tonnes of fish, consisting of at least 40 percent of the world’s recorded fish catch, is unused, wasted or not accounted for.

In the Coral Triangle where fishing is highly unregulated, this translates into many millions of kilograms of so-called bycatch, it added.

“In many cases, fish and marine animals are thrown back to sea dead or dying and currently even if bycatch is used there is no way to tell whether it was sustainable to remove it in the first place,” said WWF Coral Triangle specialist Keith Symington.

“It is an insidious and invisible form of over-fishing,” he added.

“The at-sea bycatch of marine turtles, for example, is one of the greatest threats to the future existence of these highly endangered animals. Marine turtle populations in this region have plummeted over the past decade due to indiscriminate fishing methods.”

WWF said it is introducing circle hooks that can greatly reduce turtle bycatch from tuna longlines, without compromising fishing efficiency.

“Circle hooks or C-hooks are a better alternative to the currently used J-hooks because of their round shape, which makes it difficult for turtles to swallow as opposed to the sharper-ended J-hook that can cause severe damage to turtles when accidentally ingested,” Symington said.

He said bycatch is “a major killer of marine wildlife, putting several species at risk of extinction and drastically altering the sensitive balance of marine ecosystems.”

The paper is to be published in an upcoming edition of Marine Policy, a journal of ocean policy studies.

The paper’s figures go well beyond previous global estimates, which focus mainly on catch which is thrown away and vary from between seven and 27 million tonnes a year.

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