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International Sea Turtle Activities
In March 2007, a sea turtle-fisheries interaction mitigation project took place in New Caledonia as a joint effort between the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), JIMAR and NOAA Fisheries Service PIRO. Project objectives were to:
- heighten awareness regarding sea turtle interactions with fishing gear by familiarizing commercial fishing operators in New Caledonia and fishery observers and staff of the government Service de la Marine Marchande et des Pêches (Marine Marchande) with techniques for handling sea turtles caught incidentally to fishing operations;
- provide appropriate equipment and instructions to the fishing industry on how to address specific sea turtle interactions with commercial fishing gear;
- collect baseline data on interactions between sea turtles and tuna fishing gear in New Caledonia;
- integrate appropriate topics of sea turtle interaction with commercial fishing into ongoing work programs of Marine Marchande and SPC;
- and enhance cooperation among government and non-governmental organizations involved in fisheries management and turtle conservation, locally and regionally.
Project execution consisted of six training workshops and meetings in Noumea and Koumac, ports from which the tuna longline industry operates in New Caledonia. Each workshop was conducted by a NOAA Fisheries Service contractor/principal investigator (PI) with assistance from SPC Training and Nearshore Development Section personnel, and a fisheries expert from Marine Marchande in charge of international issues.
Extensive presentations had been developed by the PI for use in industry and government workshops prior to his arrival in Noumea. Presentations were translated into French by SPC translators.
The main purpose of the first workshop was to familiarize SPC staff and others with the main themes of workshops to be conducted with the industry. It was also an opportunity to acquaint participants with some important aspects of sea turtle biology as it applies to interaction with commercial longline fisheries. After the first workshop at SPC, three other workshops were held with fishing industry participants in Noumea, and one at the northern port of Koumac.
Participants at industry workshops included captains, deck bosses, crew and in some cases, fleet managers. In addition to the Marine Marchande and SPC staff members involved directly in the project, there were 51 other participants at the workshops.
Presentations to the industry included distribution of two plastic laminated hand-outs to be used for reference onboard longline fishing vessels. Hand-outs originated at PIRO and have been used in Hawaii protected species workshops as well as other projects in the Western and Central Pacific. Hand-outs were translated into French by the SPC translation service and covered specific instructions to captains when encountering hooked or entangled sea turtles and included turtle de-hooking instructions.
The project provided several pieces of equipment to each fishing company. A short-handled de-hooker with bite block, a smaller size de-hooker suitable for subadult turtles, and a pair of bolt cutters was provided for each vessel. The PI assisted SPC in ordering one thousand line cutters from the United States with the logo in French showing a caricature of a sea turtle saying, “Prends soin de moi!” (Take care of me) followed by the statement “Je suis un pêcheur qui respecte les tortues” (I am a turtle-friendly fisherman).
Each workshop participant was given a line cutter, and the fishing companies were given adequate supplies for all their captains. These line cutters, with the message in French, are a unique way to get the turtle conservation message across to fishermen. Line cutters can be used as a safety tool for fishermen on deck, as well as being affixed to a pole or gaff for use in releasing entangled sea turtles (see picture). At the workshops, it was clear that fishermen recognized the utility of the line cutters and were pleased to receive them.
That the project was successful in meeting all objectives was attributed to several factors, including:
- enthusiastic and professional support received from SPC and Marine Marchande;
- cooperation and participation of the longline fishing industry; and
- the decision by Marine Marchande to provide the industry with bycatch mortality mitigation tools
Recent changes in domestic regulations regarding taking of turtles in internal waters and the timing of impending regulatory provisions relating to turtle bycatch in the fishing industry also contributed to the project being well received.The SPC Training Section has indicated that it will endeavor to use information obtained during the project in enhancing its bycatch awareness activities in the region. In particular, it intends to integrate the information into a bycatch module to be introduced at Ecole des Métiers de la Mer (EMM) and other regional training institutions.