Responsible Fishing: Leatherbacks’ Last Hope?
A year after the United States lifted afive-month embargo on shrimp importsfrom Costa Rica because U.S. officialsdetermined commercial shrimp harvestersin the country were taking steps to helpendangered sea turtles, national fishermen’sassociations and environmentalorganizations are renewing efforts to haltfishing practices that threaten to wipe outleatherback turtles within 10-15 years.A joint project between the MarineTurtle Restoration Program (PRETOMA),the Puntarenas Chamber of Fishermen, theIndependent Union of Shrimp Fishermen(UNIPESCA) and the state-run CostaRican Fishery Institute (INCOPESCA)aims to train Costa Rican fishermen in theproper use of devices meant to keep turtlesout of their nets.The so-called turtle-excluder devices(TEDs), developed by U.S. fisherman andPRETOMA collaborator Sinkey Boone in1969, consist of bars installed on shrimpingnets to prevent turtles from being capturedalong with shrimp and drowningafter remaining underwater five or sixhours, an amount that exceeds their lungcapacity.THE educational initiative, which willalso evaluate different TED designs to findout which are best suited for Costa Ricanwaters and fishing activity, will focus ontwo main areas, shrimping out of the centralPacific port-town of Puntarenas, andlong-lining out of Playas del Coco, in thenorthwestern province of Guanacaste,according to PRETOMA presidentRandall Aráuz.Even though Costa Rica passed a lawin late 2002 requiring TED use, Aráuz saidturtle-excluder devices have a bad reputationamong fishermen here, who claimthey do not capture as much shrimp whenthey use them.PRETOMA, a nonprofit organization,seeks to change that perception throughthe new training program, Aráuzexplained.Hugo Solano, spokesman for the CostaRican Fishery Institute (INCOPESCA),said the institute and Costa Rican CoastGuard jointly perform approximately 120annual, unannounced inspections of theestimated 50 Costa Rican shrimping boatsto check for TED use.Since 2002, there have been four casesof violation of the law to protect marineturtles, said INCOPESCA TechnicalDirector Marvin Mora.THE education project seeks toencourage fishermen to use TEDs byshowing them the benefits of the devices.“The project relies greatly on the collaborationof Costa Rican fishermen,”PRETOMA representative NoahAnderson said.The organization plans to make sixexcursions aboard shrimping boats toobserve their fishing practices and providehands-on, practical training to fishermenfrom now until May or June.“Last September, Sinkey Boone camehere and imparted a three-week training inPuntarenas, in which he explained theadvantages of the correct use of TEDs. Notonly do they keep turtles from entering thenet, they also keep garbage and wood out,which improves the quality of the shrimp,”Anderson said.THE devices “are used (in LatinAmerica) because they are imposed by theUnited States, not for responsible fishing,”Aráuz said, adding that the United Statesimposed trade sanctions on Panama lastDecember, while Venezuela has beenembargoed two to three times already.The United States established a law in1996 that allows it to ban shrimp exportsfrom any country that does not use the turtle-excluder devices.“The U.S. government certifies eachcountry through an annual, announcedvisit, so it’s easy for fishermen to set up ascene that looks good,” Aráuz said.ALL seven species of sea turtles,whose ancestors date as far back as thedinosaurs, are facing the threat of extinction.The largest of them all, theleatherback, is the most endangered,according to Aráuz.PRETOMA strives to help all thesespecies survive. Among its many programs,the organization runs a turtle hatcheryprogram in Playa Caletas to help oliveridley and leatherback turtle populationson the Pacific coast (TT, Jan. 28).Pacific leatherback populations, whichhave four major nesting locations in thePacific basin including Costa Rica, havedropped dramatically in the past 25 years.While an estimated 91,000 nests existed in1980, by 2002 only 5,000 remained,according to “Last Journey for theLeatherback,” a 2004 film by U.S.-basedEarthview Productions distributed inCosta Rica by PRETOMA.THE reason for their decline? Humanindifference, according to environmentalists.Some, like the hawksbill turtle, arevictims of international demand for itsshell, the source of most tortoiseshell jewelry.Others fall prey to subsistencehunters and poachers who sell their meat.Most sea turtles, however, die duringtheir incidental capture in fishing orshrimping nets and lines, Aráuz said.In a practice known as pelagic long-lining,commercial Costa Rican fishermenuse fishing lines of up to 800 hooks thatmay extend 15-20 miles during their two-weekfishing expeditions, he explained.Often, leatherbacks become tangled orcaught on these lines and die when fishermenrip the hooks out of their mouths.Making matters worse, internationalfleets from Asia, Spain and Norway maycircle Pacific waters from four to fivemonths, dragging 5,000-hook lines thatextend more than 100 miles in internationalwaters, posing an even greater threat toturtles and other marine species.SCIENTISTS estimate that everyyear, pelagic long-lining in the PacificOcean kills 40,000 marine turtles, alongwith 3.7 million sharks, 14,000 black-footedalbatross, 2,000 dolphins and 1,500whales, according to the EarthviewProductions documentary.“The problem is, there is no law forinternational waters,” Aráuz said. “Whocontrols them? No one!”Drift-netting, a procedure used to capturetuna, salmon and squid, was consideredthe most environmentally destructivefishing technique, because it killed everythingit caught along the way. The UnitedNations banned it in 1991.A petition signed in June 2004 by4,000-5,000 scientists asks the UnitedNations to declare a moratorium on pelagiclong-lining in international waters onthe Pacific, according to the PRETOMApresident.“Only the United Nations can stopthis,” Aráuz said.The United Nations, however, has yetto respond to the initiative for a long-liningmoratorium, part of a movement begun in2002, he added.For more information aboutPRETOMA’s programs, visit www.tortugamarina.org.The address to write to the UnitedNations about a moratorium on long-liningin the Pacific is: U.N. EnvironmentProgram, Two United Nations Plaza, DC2-803, New York, NY 10017 U.S.A., or email@example.com.
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