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Tackling Sea Turtle Bycatch with International Fishing Communities

June 20, 2024

An international program is helping fishers in the Pacific coast of Mexico to reduce bycatch of protected sea turtles.

A loggerhead turtle swims through bright blue water. The surface is barely visible at the top of the frame. A loggerhead sea turtle swimming in a deep blue open ocean. Credit: Adobe Stock

Sea turtles worldwide face a major persistent threat: bycatch, or accidental take by fishers. They get caught in nets or hooks, and can die as a result. Fishers don’t want to catch these turtles; they want to be part of the solution. But they haven’t been able to have their own voice to participate in those efforts—until now.

In our latest podcast, we’ll hear about an international program that’s taking a community-based approach to reducing bycatch of North Pacific loggerheads and East Pacific leatherbacks. The program conducts assessments with rural fishing communities to learn about their bycatch issues, and works with them to develop solutions. These solutions could include alternative gear, methods to help turtles survive if they become entangled—and even new jobs outside of the fishing industry. We’ve conducted nearly 600 assessments so far, run gear trials, and several communities are now implementing alternative gear types.

We talk to Dr. Jeff Seminoff, leader of the Marine Turtle Ecology and Assessment Program at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and Dr. Mike Liles, International Sea Turtle Coordinator for NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Division. They lead NOAA’s involvement in the program.