Fishing Around Seals and Turtles
To help save monk seal and sea turtle lives, the Fishing Around Seals and Turtles (FAST) program promotes communication, co-existence, and best practices when fishing near marine wildlife in Hawai'i.
- Promote practical tips to prevent or reduce the potential for accidental interactions while fishing in nearshore waters.
- Provide fishermen with best practice guidance to help improve the animal’s chance for survival if an accidental gear interaction occurs.
Safety Tips for Fishermen
Fishermen safety is always most important!
* NOAA biologists and volunteers are specifically trained and permitted to assist marine animals and provide guidance to fishermen and the public.
Prevent the Event - Tips for Fishing Around Sea Turtles
Fishermen developed the following information that may help to prevent hooking or reduce the potential for gear interactions with sea turtles when fishing.
- Watch your gear.
Do not leave gear unattended. Stay with your gear so you can respond quickly, especially when fishing in high turtle-density areas (such as north shore beaches of most islands).
- Check your bait often.
Checking and recasting gear helps to reduce the potential for hooking or entanglement by relocating a baited hook away from a curious turtle.
- Retrieve and recycle old line and dispose of it responsibly.
Minimize the amount of gear and line left on the reef. Gear left on the reef can still catch and drown a turtle.
- Use live fish bait.
Baits such as eel, octopus, squid, or dead fish may be attractive to turtles. In general, the “stinkier” your bait, the more interested turtles might be in your gear. Some fishermen believe live fish bait is less attractive to turtles and using it may result in fewer turtle interactions. This is also consistent with the biology of the species as live finfish is not part of the known green or hawksbill turtle diet.
- Fish sunset to sunrise.
Using big game gear (for ulua) at night—from sunset to sunrise—may reduce the potential for turtle interactions. Although interactions do occur at night, some fishermen believe they have fewer interactions with turtles at night. This theory also aligns with what biologist know about sea turtle behavior, as turtles appear to feed primarily during the day and sleep at night.
- Never feed a turtle!
Green turtles are herbivores (eat algae and seagrass), but they can become accustomed to being fed and can develop an unnatural taste for fish or squid making them more likely to take a baited hook.
- Clean your catch away from turtles.
Keep discarded fish scraps and bait away from turtles—never throw scraps into the water or in harbors (plus, it’s illegal to discard fish scraps in harbors).
- Report illegal gillnets!
By reporting to Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), you are helping sea turtles, seals, fish, and fishermen: 643-DLNR (3567).
Guidelines for Fishermen if a Sea Turtle Interaction Occurs
Interactions in hook-and-line fisheries are the primary cause of injury and stranding of Hawaiian sea turtles. Fishing line can cause strangulation, loss of flippers, drowning, and death.* If a turtle is accidentally caught, fishermen can—at the moment an interaction occurs—help reduce further injury by reeling in the animal to cut the line as close to the hook as possible. Remember, safety first!
It’s OK to Help!
- Call 1-888-256-9840, the Marine Animal Response Hotline for guidance.
- Reel-in turtle with care. Do not drag a turtle up a cliff.
- Hold turtle by its shell.
- Cut line* close to hook, or as short as possible. Leave the hook in place.
- Release with no line attached.
* In Hawai'i, turtles are typically externally hooked, and then the fishing line entangles them, causing serious injury or death. The line is most important! Additionally, focusing on the line is best for the turtle because it minimizes time spent with the animal (it’s quick) and reduces the risk of injury to both fishermen and the turtle. Leave the hook. The hook is like a piercing to a turtle, and attempting to remove it can cause additional injury to the turtle.
NOAA relies on calls from the public to understand seal habitats, how many there are, and how people and seals might be interacting. Please follow these guidelines to help avoid fishery interactions. If a seal is hooked or entangled, notify the Marine Animal Response Hotline (1-888-256-9840) so that trained personnel can respond quickly.
Prevent the Event - Tips for Fishing Around Monk Seals
Fishermen developed the following information that may help prevent hookings and/or reduce the potential for gear interactions with monk seals when fishing.
- Watch your gear.
Do not leave gear unattended and stay with your gear so you can respond quickly if necessary.
- Take care when casting or setting gear if a seal is seen or known to be in the area.
If you see a seal while fishing, consider taking a short break to give the seal a chance to move on.
- Never feed a seal!
A seal that gets food from one fisherman will try to poach from other fishermen, impacting everyone's fishing experience. Plus, it’s illegal to feed a marine mammal.
- Clean catch away from seals.
Keep discarded fish scraps and bait away from seals—never throw scraps into the water or in harbors (plus, it’s illegal to discard fish scraps in harbors).
- Fish with barbless circle hooks.
Crimp the barb if you believe a seal might be in the area. Barbless hooks may not prevent a seal from getting hooked, but they cause less injury and are easier to remove. See how to easily make your own barbless circle hooks.
- Report illegal gillnets!
By reporting to the DLNR, you are helping sea turtles, seals, fish, and fishermen: 643-DLNR (3567).
Guidelines for Fishermen if a Monk Seal Interaction Occurs
If a seal has been hooked or entangled, immediately call to alert the Marine Animal Response Hotline: 1-888-256-9840.
The hotline operator will ask you questions about the seal and its size, the type of gear used, the beach location, and any other identifying features of the seal or area so that trained NOAA responders can help find and help the seal.
Do not attempt to remove a hook or aid the seal yourself
Seals are large, wild animals and can bite. You may cut the line as close to the animal as possible to help minimize the amount of trailing gear. Remember, safety first!
It’s Ok to Call!
Call the Marine Animal Response Hotline at 1-888-256-9840 if:
- You see a seal while fishing.
- A seal takes your bait or catch.
- You think a seal might be hooked or entangled.
Guidelines for Spear Fishermen
Protect your catch! Smart divers never feed seals.
Seals are wild animals. Do not teach them that divers might provide a free meal.
- Keep your catch close.
- Prevent seals from taking your fish.
- Report seal encounters to the Marine Animal Response Hotline: 1-888-256-9840
Guidelines for Boaters
Save a life by Posting A Lookout!
Remember speed kills, Easy on the Throttle.
Decals are often distributed at fishing tournaments or other community fishing events. You may also request a free decal by emailing Respect.Wildlife@noaa.gov.
Conversation and feedback is welcome! Through dialogue, we can often come up with solutions or viable strategies. Please let us know how this program and fishing tips have or haven't worked for you. This information helps us to improve products (like decals), messaging, and outreach strategies to fishermen and the community.
Share your feedback and concerns via the Response Hotline (1-888-256-9840) or email Respect.Wildlife@noaa.gov.
- Recreational and Non-commercial Fishing in the Pacific Islands
- Sea Turtle Research in the Pacific
- Hawaiian Monk Seal
- NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Region
Sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals are protected under the Endangered Species Act (16 USC 1531 et seq.). Monk seals are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (16 USC 1361 et seq.). These laws prohibit unauthorized “take”, whether by killing, injuring, or capturing the animal or by other acts of harassment. Additionally, feeding or attempting to feed a wild monk seal (or any marine mammal) is also prohibited. However, we know that unintentional interactions (hookings and entanglements) can occur when fishing, even when fishermen take steps to avoid them. The Fishing Around Seals and Turtles (FAST) program was developed via a multi-agency partnership that includes NOAA Fisheries, the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement (DOCARE), expert fishermen, and the Hawai'i Fishermen's Alliance for Conservation and Tradition (HFACT). Participants in State of Hawai'i managed fisheries, must comply with both federal and Hawaii State fishing regulations.