At their Seventh Meeting (Bonn, September 2014), the Signatory States to the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU identified a need to increase the visibility of issues concerning interactions of fisheries with marine turtles in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia region.

One of the greatest threats to marine turtles worldwide is accidental catch in fishing operations and directed take. Each year, hundreds of thousands of turtles are accidentally caught by gillnets, shrimp trawl nets and on longline hooks. Loggerheads, green turtles and leatherbacks, all defined as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red List, are among those especially affected. In addition, derelict fishing gear that has been discarded, lost, or abandoned at sea – referred to as “ghost gear” or “ghost nets” – often cause entanglement of marine turtles and subsequent drowning.

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Measures to protect marine turtles from fishing activities include bans on deliberately catching turtles, spatial and temporal control of fishing, declaration of marine protected areas, legal frameworks requiring fishermen to use techniques and equipment that avoid marine turtle bycatch, training on appropriate handling of by-caught turtles, as well as monitoring and recovery of fish aggregating devices (FADs) and other fishing gear.

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) is the main regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) mandated to manage tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean and adjacent seas. While its primary objective is to assure the conservation and optimum utilisation of tuna and tuna-like stocks, in recent years the IOTC has paid increasing attention to the impacts of fisheries on other marine species, such as marine turtles, seabirds and sharks (relevant resolutions can be found on the IOTC website). 

Other RFMOs with comparable mandates, such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), have also adopted resolutions and recommendations aimed at mitigating bycatch of marine turtles.

You can learn more about the issue of marine turtle bycatch by clicking on the related tabs above, and particularly by reading the synthesis paper “Insights into Indian Ocean Fisheries-Turtle Interactions”, published by the IOSEA Secretariat in 2013 in response to the request of the Sixth Meeting of the Signatory States to begin an investigation of indirect take of marine turtles in legal fisheries occurring in the IOSEA region:

This synthesis paper was discussed by the Seventh Meeting of IOSEA Signatory States (Bonn, September 2014). It analyses national reports submitted by member States of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) to the 15th meeting of the IOTC Scientific Committee, held in the Seychelles in December 2012. The review sought to assess the reports’ potential contribution to the understanding of marine turtle bycatch in the Indian Ocean and the efficacy of by-catch mitigation measures undertaken by IOTC members. The paper was prepared to provide guidance to Signatory States with a view to taking IOSEA’s involvement in by-catch mitigation efforts to a new level.

Despite shortcomings, the national reports provided to the IOTC Scientific Committee include much information of interest and relevance to marine turtle conservation, including some data on the incidence of turtle bycatch. While this aspect was found generally incomplete and based on very limited observation and reporting, the paper noted, however, that the information contained in IOTC reports on fleet size and distribution could be used as starting point for more in-depth investigation of overlaps and interactions with marine turtle populations in the IOSEA region.

Furthermore, the national reports submitted by many of the same countries, as part of their reporting commitments to IOSEA, often provided complementary information on their fisheries and bycatch mitigation measures. In the interest of presenting a fuller picture of these efforts, Annex 2 to the report summarises the highlights of this additional information.