Sea Turtle Bycatch Reduction in Trawl Fisheries
NOAA Fisheries is gathering information from the public, fishing industry, and other stakeholder groups to inform any future measures for reducing bycatch in trawl fisheries.
NOAA Fisheries has been evaluating, researching, and addressing bycatch of sea turtles in trawl gear used in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean since the late 1980s, through:
- developing bycatch estimates
- studying sea turtle ecology and fishery interactions
- regulating certain fisheries (shrimp, summer flounder) to reduce sea turtle bycatch
- discussing mitigation options with the fishing industry and others
- researching gear and operational measures to reduce the severity of interactions that do occur
Sea turtle interactions documented by the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program most commonly occur from Massachusetts south. Seventy-two percent of observed fishery interactions from 2000-2019 were on trips where croaker (36%), longfin squid (19%), or summer flounder (17%) was the top landed species by hail weight. While turtles can be captured in bottom trawls wherever their occurrence overlaps, we have focused research on these fisheries given their high level of interactions. Over the last decade, we have explored and tested several research ideas generated at the 2007 and 2010 trawl workshops with the fishing industry, scientists, and other members of the public.
We are currently completing the final catch retention research on these fishing gears and continuing our outreach to the fishing industry. While we are not at the proposed rule stage, we are gathering early information from the public, fishing industry, and other stakeholder groups to inform any future measures. We have received numerous public comments to date. You can continue to provide your feedback via email.
What Are We Considering?
Given the results of previous research, we are considering:
- Requiring TEDs with a large escape opening in trawls that target Atlantic croaker, weakfish, and longfin squid to reduce injury and mortality resulting from accidental capture in these fisheries
- Moving the current northern boundary of the TED requirements in the summer flounder fishery (i.e., the Summer Flounder Fishery-Sea Turtle Protection Area) to a point farther north to more comprehensively address capture in this fishery
- Amending the TED requirements for the summer flounder fishery to require a larger escape opening to allow the release of larger hard-shelled and leatherback sea turtles
- Adding an option allowing documented limited tow durations, if feasible and enforceable, in lieu of TEDs in these fisheries to provide flexibility to the fisheries
In addition to the Atlantic croaker, longfin squid, and summer flounder fisheries, we are considering measures in the weakfish fishery. Weakfish is harvested with the same type of trawl gear and at the same times and in the same areas as Atlantic croaker, often by the same vessels. Due to these similarities, we are considering the croaker and weakfish fisheries together for these bycatch reduction purposes.
Potential TED Options By Fishery
To see specific management options under consideration for your fishery, visit the fishery specific page below. These pages serve for informational purposes, and the options included are not currently being proposed.
What Information Is Helpful?
We are seeking input on the potential measures and welcome all feedback. The following questions include the type of information that would be helpful to shape potential management measures. If you provide feedback, please specify the fishery or fisheries to which your response applies.
|Should we consider any other mitigation measures (e.g., other TED designs, time/area management) at this time?|
|What temporal and geographic scope is appropriate? Other sea turtle/fishery conservation measures in the Greater Atlantic Region (e.g., scallop dredges) occur from May 1 to November 30 west of 71° W longitude.|
|Should we consider limited tow durations in the Atlantic croaker/weakfish, longfin squid, and summer flounder fisheries, a subset of these fisheries, or not at all?|
How should we define the Atlantic croaker/weakfish, summer flounder, and longfin squid fisheries? Fisheries may be defined in a variety of ways including by geographic area, gear, and mesh size; target species; or permitted vessels, among others. Are the current definitions appropriate or are there other definitions that should be considered? Current definitions used in these fisheries include:
|Do you foresee any operational issues with the TEDs under consideration in your fishery?|
|Are there any considerations to indicate that the weakfish fishery should not be considered in conjunction with the Atlantic croaker fishery?|
If data loggers are required in a fishery, they can also collect environmental data (e.g., bottom temperature) that could be accessed by fishermen at sea. Are there environmental parameters that would be informative to fishing operations?
|If you had an option to use limited tow durations (likely limited to approximately 1 hour), use a TED, or fish in a different area, which option would you choose? Please indicate the fishery or fisheries you participate in. With regards to fishing in a different area, please note that we are not yet specifying a particular area (or season) to be regulated. For instance, the range could extend from Massachusetts south or be focused on a more narrow area like south of New Jersey, and be in effect from May to November or some other shorter temporal window, so please consider how your response may be different given this.|
|Please describe any additional costs that you would experience if required to use a TED. This can include costs related to extra fuel, extra time due to added tows to compensate for potential catch loss, labor to install/maintain the TED, and/or other operational and catch considerations.|
|Some of the testing indicates that the TEDs will reduce unwanted bycatch (e.g., skates, rays) in some situations. Is the capture of these species an issue in your fishery and, if so, would reducing the bycatch have an economic impact or benefit?|
|If you were required to use a TED, would you tow longer, complete additional tows, or engage in another strategy to compensate for any reduction in landed catch?|
Please help us to better understand the potential impacts of limited tow durations:
Providing Your Feedback
We accepted public input through May 31, 2022 via email, remote office hours, public webinars, and fishery management meetings. The webinars were open to all interested parties to gather input and information to inform any future measures.
- February 16, 2022. Atlantic croaker focus. Register here to view the recorded meeting.
- March 1, 2022. Longfin squid focus. Register here to view the recorded meeting.
- March 14, 2022. Summer flounder focus. Register here to view the recorded meeting.
Fishery Management Meetings
- New England Fishery Management Council – December 8, 2021; April 13
- Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council – December 15, 2021; April 6
- Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission – January 26, May 5
- Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Advisory Panel (joint Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass & Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish) – February 15
- Webinar attendance: Atlantic croaker (9 participants); longfin squid (13 participants); summer flounder (12 participants). Mostly clarifying questions.
- Remote office hours: no responses
- Council and Advisory Panel (18 participants) meetings: mostly clarifying questions
- Written comments: 16 comment letters (12 generally negative and 4 generally positive) and 250 supportive public comment cards
Stakeholder Feedback Received
The following tables represent the type of comments received. When appropriate, similar comments were condensed and summarized. Clarifying questions are not included here, as they were either answered during the presentation or data were provided afterwards.
|General Support for Regulations|
|Endangered and threatened sea turtles have not recovered, and threats continue to increase.|
|All sea turtles are threatened by trawl bycatch mortality; action to minimize bycatch is warranted by provisions in both the Endangered Species Act and Magnuson-Stevens Act.|
|Hundreds of sea turtles per year are captured in non-shrimp trawl gear, and this is clear evidence that NOAA Fisheries must ensure effective sea turtle protections across these three fisheries. At present, TEDs are the best hope for eliminating bycatch of listed sea turtle species in trawl fisheries.|
|Bycatch reduction measures would fulfill an action in the Loggerhead Recovery Plan.|
|General Opposition to Regulations|
|Several commenters were against any mitigation measure in the northern Mid-Atlantic otter trawl fleet (e.g., TEDs, moving regulatory boundary lines) at this time.|
|Several commenters were against any mitigation measure in the northern Mid-Atlantic otter trawl fleet (e.g., TEDs, moving regulatory boundary lines) at this time.|
|Several commenters noted that the action is unreasonable given the low level of turtle encounters and reduction in fishery quotas.|
|The identified fisheries are being unfairly targeted.|
|Content of Regulations|
|The regulations should: require TEDs in croaker, weakfish, and longfin squid trawls; move northern boundary of summer flounder TED requirements; require large escape opening in summer flounder TEDs; consider limited tow durations in lieu of TEDs with requirements for observers and/or vessel monitoring systems to ensure compliance; enact dynamic boundaries for TED use based on water temperature; and consider static and dynamic time-area closures when high levels of mortality are observed or based upon models of sea turtle distribution and abundance.|
|When requiring TEDs, approve multiple sizes and versions of the gear modifications in order to allow more flexibility for industry to choose what works best for them.|
|Industry will likely prefer flexible TEDs.|
|Do not include tow time restrictions as this approach does not have the proven effectiveness of TEDs. Shorter tows will not work in the summer flounder and longfin squid fishery, as these fisheries require more than 60 minutes of towing to herd fish into the net.|
|The only viable solution to reducing sea turtle interactions in the trawl fishery is to limit tow lengths to a maximum of 3 hours.|
|Atlantic croaker and weakfish should not be lumped together with longfin squid and summer flounder as they are in different geographic locations. However, summer flounder and longfin squid could be combined because often the same boats fish for both species.|
|For the last 20 years or so, weakfish has not been a targeted species. The oceanic conditions and fisheries have changed, particularly off North Carolina, so it is important to look at recent gear trends.|
|It is appropriate to consider Atlantic croaker and weakfish together as the fisheries use the same gear. In fact, managing by gear (e.g., flynet) rather than fishery may be more appropriate as species vary but the gear remains consistent. Flynets also target bluefish and menhaden. Further, on the gear definition, the actual design of the gear and net plans may be more informative to evaluate rather than using the industry term (e.g., flynet).|
|Recommend focusing on summer flounder, but reexamine the relevant catch and bycatch rate estimate, as well as a more precise latitudinal explanation of where takes have occurred and are predicted to occur.|
|Hail weight by species may not always be the best way to define a fishery.|
|Scale of Regulations|
|Smaller vessels (e.g., under 40 length overall) should be exempt from the new regulations.|
|All waters inside of COLREGS lines should be exempt from TED requirements.|
|Current fishing regulations use possession limits to identify vessels that are harvesting a species incidentally (e.g., squid) or when certain management measures (e.g., summer flounder mesh size restrictions) are required under a given permit. These regulations should be used to define when a vessel would need to use a TED. That is, vessels possessing less than 100 or 200 pounds of summer flounder or 2,000 pounds of squid would not be required to use a TED.|
|Bycatch measures should include the waters off North Carolina as well as more northern areas of the eastern seaboard in response to warming ocean temperatures, shifts in the distribution of many commercial fish species, and the threat of bycatch in new areas.|
|Regulations should not be enacted north of the Virginia/North Carolina border as there are few sea turtles north of 38 degrees north latitude especially during the fall and winter.|
|Do not make actions overly and unnecessarily burdensome; use existing data to limit TED requirements to when there is the most documented positive impact to turtles, looking at the season, geographic location, and fishing depth.|
|Spatially and temporally expand the current TED requirements in the Sea Turtle Protection Area to address known incidental take.|
|TED Operational Issues|
|TEDs will be impractical given the various fisheries, type of nets, and vessel sizes pursued in the Northeast.|
|Fisheries in the Northeast are far different from the other areas where TEDs are required, and there are serious concerns, related to both economics and safety.|
|Debris and heavy objects encountered in fisheries will damage net and/or TED, pose a challenge to remove, and result in lost catch.|
|TEDs (and the hauling on net drums) are unlikely to withstand the type of weight experienced in Northeast bottom trawl fisheries.|
|TEDs will be cumbersome to use, and fishermen cannot waste months of possible income while trying to configure a net to work effectively.|
|Finfish and squid are sensitive to changes in water flow and pressure in the net, and a TED would likely result in low catch rates even without malfunctions. Previous testing found catch loss, noting the grid was not neutrally buoyant, did not fish parallel with the bottom, and distortion and water flow changes may have contributed to catch loss.|
|There were some concerns with TEDs specifically in the summer flounder fishery, e.g., summer flounder will not pass the 4” wide bar spacing in the TED grid, the TED runs 180 degrees opposite to the way the fish swim, water pressure will force fish up and out of the escape opening, and the fish that do pass the 4” bar spacing will easily go through the 6” mesh in the codend.|
|Gear researchers noted concerns from captain/crew on operational usability, how the TED fits on reel, durability, clogging by large catches, and significant loss of jumbo summer flounder as well as other stocks that may or may not be landed.|
|Research shows that TEDs are successful in preventing trawl fisheries from incidentally capturing and killing sea turtles.|
|Regarding the proposed data logger requirement, tow time begins when the winch is engaged. It is important to clarify how the bottom time is recorded by the tow time sensor.|
|TED Economic Issues|
|There were numerous concerns about catch loss from using TEDs, and the corresponding additional or longer tows with increased fuel costs and additional time at sea to make up for that loss. Fishermen wouldn’t be able to compensate for the economic loss.|
|Installation of TEDs would be costly because TEDs would have to be installed in more than one net aboard a vessel.|
|Smaller vessels catch target species at a much lower rate, so reductions in catch would severely impact small businesses.|
|Economic burdens on the fleet would be costly while having negligible benefits to turtle populations. The economic analysis associated with any proposed rule should take all costs into consideration.|
|Reduced catch will increase the area swept and potentially increase bycatch and costs.|
|With a TED, the larger fish (black sea bass, scup, flatfish) will be eliminated, and that is what is desired by the market. Small fish (whiting, scup, and butterfish) will not be hugely affected by the TED but are subject to volatile and often low value markets.|
|Many commenters expressed concern with rising fuel costs, especially given the travel needed to get to other states to land a larger quota of summer flounder. The costs for all items necessary for fishing are increasing.|
|Aging of the fisheries, COVID, and various fisheries management plans over the last 20 years have cost fishing communities many varied infrastructure jobs (including net builders) and limited the supply chain. TEDs are one more cost that should not be passed along especially given that turtle bycatch is decreasing over time.|
|Sea Turtle Bycatch|
|Several commenters, mostly from New York and north, noted that they rarely see sea turtles despite fishing a broad area and infrequently catch turtles. Those that are caught are released alive and uninjured. TEDs are not warranted given this level of bycatch.|
|Despite years of high observer coverage, turtle bycatch is low, especially in longfin squid fishery.|
|A 2021 Biological Opinion states that turtle bycatch in trawl fisheries in the northern range of the Mid-Atlantic would have a negligible effect on turtle populations. There has been a failure to properly document that these fisheries pose a significant threat to these species (e.g., jeopardizing the existence of the species).|
|Bycatch should be evaluated by vessel size, different trawl net type, gear configuration, and time of day (day vs. night).|
|The most recent data should be considered to most accurately reflect current fishing operations and the potential for turtle interactions, especially in the context of summer flounder quota levels and effort. Further, turtle interactions over time (e.g., most recent 5 year period) should be considered especially in the croaker fishery given the low activity over the last 5-10 years.|
|There is high bycatch of sea turtles in trawl fisheries, but bycatch reduction measures have only been implemented for the summer flounder fishery in waters off the North Carolina coast.|
|The 5-year mortality rate averages have decreased since 2012, showing lower turtle mortality and bycatch in the Mid-Atlantic trawl fleet over time.|
|Bycatch numbers should be presented in terms of actual mortality, not just interactions.|
|Post-interaction mortality rates should consider seasonality and water temperature when evaluating decompression sickness, not just depth. Consideration should be given to purchasing resuscitative gear, medication, and equipment for observers to aid turtles so that their post-interaction mortality rate can approach zero.|
|Several commenters noted that turtles are impacted by vessel traffic, marine debris/pollution, hook and line recreational fishing, loss of nesting habitat, disease, cold stunning, and power plants. Trawl interactions and mortality are not as high as these other threats. In particular, annual and total estimates for recreational fishing gear should be evaluated and bans on balloons should be considered.|
|NOAA Fisheries must show that they are taking actions to address other threats that have as much, or a greater, impact on turtle populations as the bottom trawl fisheries.|
|Consider focusing on vessel speed restrictions from May through November instead of requirements on trawl vessels.|
|It is unclear why the agency is undertaking a targeted action against the squid trawl fishery while other fisheries and entities are responsible for significantly higher turtle takes. The highest sources of mortality should be addressed first, as those sources are the most likely to jeopardize the protected species in question. Gillnets have higher lethal take numbers compared to trawl fisheries.|
|Establishing turtle hatcheries could be an option to recover the species, but a permit is unable to be obtained.|
|Turtles remain threatened despite 50 years of protections and are facing major effects from climate change. Climate change threats may impede future recovery so underscores need for greater protections to reduce current levels of mortality from bycatch.|
|More Information Needed|
|Further research is needed on whether existing fishing gear modifications or net types (e.g., rope net that has top and bottom openings in front of net) could be used to reduce turtle interactions.|
|It is unclear what type of TED testing has been conducted in fisheries targeted for TED requirements. TEDs should be tested in fisheries that have not experimented with TEDs during normal fishing operations to increase sample sizes and to avoid catch reductions and problems before proceeding with regulations.|
|Consider stratifying tow duration by vessel size in order to ascertain impacts of shorter tow durations on the fishery.|
|More information should be provided to the public including number of strandings, other sources of mortality, observed takes by region, TED feasibility/compliance in other areas, and turtle population assessments.|
|Industry outreach needs to continue.|
If you are interested in participating in gear research, please contact Henry Milliken, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, (509) 495-2294.
Contact Carrie Upite, Sea Turtle Recovery Coordinator, (978) 282-8475