Careful Release Protocols for Sea Turtle Release with Minimal Injury

June 20, 2019

Lesley Stokes and Charles Bergmann (editors)

The careful release protocols presented here describe the tools and techniques for safely removing fishing gear from incidentally captured sea turtles (Plate C-1) and other bycatch species. The document is designed primarily to provide specific handling guidelines for removing gear from sea turtles captured in hook-and-line fisheries. Interactions with other species (e.g., fish, marine mammals, and seabirds) and gear types (e.g., trawls, gillnets, fixed gear) are mentioned briefly here, but this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide for interactions with these species or gear types. This chapter introduces the importance of gear removal, and then specific protocols and tools are addressed in the following chapters.

These protocols synthesize the results of scientific research involving gear removal tools initially developed for pelagic longline fisheries (Watson et al. 2004, Watson et al. 2005). Based on user feedback from fishery captains, crew members and observers after subsequent field-testing, these gear removal tools have been updated, and equipment design standards have been revised as needed. A demonstration of the use of many of these tools and techniques can been seen in the video “Removing Fishing Gear from Longline Caught Sea Turtles” at:

Updates in this version: This document, which updates the NMFS SEFSC Revised 2010 Careful Release Protocols for Sea Turtle Release with Minimal Injury, has been revised to better inform users of gear removal priorities and the rationale behind making important decisions, such as when to bring an animal on board and when to remove hooks. The protocols have been modified to incorporate additional user feedback after extensive field testing and to incorporate newly approved tools. All previously authorized tools and gear removal protocols are still approved for use. Three new tools have been approved for use by the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC), the “squeeze handle dehooker,” the “NOAA collapsible hoop net,” and two models of remote (handle-free) line cutters (“JLC - TL-1” and “JLC - ZC-2”). Please check with the applicable regulations as the final authority for required, approved, and specifications for tools in each fishery.

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on 08/06/2020