New fish hooks herald better future for sea turtles
Many more turtles could survive in the eastern Pacific ocean if fishermen stopped using traditional fish hooks.
In 2003, the World Wide Fund for Nature (or WWF) took the initiative to do just that, first in Ecuador and later in other Latin American countries.
The sea turtle: under threat
The world's sea turtles are under constant threat not just as the result of a loss of habitat, but also because of the large numbers that are accidentally killed as 'by-catch'.
Turtles are attracted by bait intended for fish and get caught on the hooks. In these cases, a turtle's chances of survival are slim.
Sea turtles have a three-stage life cycle with each phase taking place in a different type of environment.
The animals migrate over long distances, making close cooperation between countries a necessity to guarantee adequate protection.
Moisés Mug is the Fisheries Senior Program Officer for WWF in Latin America and the Caribbean. He is enthusiastic about the results achieved by replacing J-shaped hooks with round hooks:
"What we do in this programme is replace the traditional J-shaped hooked with new C-shaped hooks. They have more of a closed shape, which has two main advantages. The unintended by-catch of sea turtles has been substantially reduced while the main catch has remained the same. This is a vital precondition.
We are working with the local fishermen on a purely voluntary basis and we have independent observers carrying out experiments on board the fishing boats. The observers allow us to measure the results of this new technique."
The WWF sponsors a project intended to encourage fishermen to use the new method and have them promote its introduction.
Moisés Mug ensures us that more than 1,300 fishermen are currently involved in the project and more than 8,000 have attended workshops to obtain more information.
At present, more than 312,000 euros have been invested, mainly in the workshops and to pay for the observers who sail with the fishermen to persuade everyone that the project is profitable in all respects.
New hooks proved effective
The results obtained with C-shaped hooks are identical compared to J-shaped hooks.
At first, fishermen had some difficulty fixing bait to the new type of hook, but they have since found it makes no difference.
A traditonal fishhook, right: the new turtle-friendly fishhook.
Photo © WWF
The new hooks had already been tested in the Azores and the United States before they were introduced in Latin America. The Costa Rican fishermen are very satisfied with the C-shaped hooks, although we suspect that the sea turtles will be even better pleased.
Alejandra Fernández Bonilla and Cor Doeswijk