Baby turtles, ready to be released into the ocean. Baby turtles, ready to be released into the ocean.

Turtles continue to be victims of bycatch

But hunting of turtles has declined, and so has the theft of eggs

The number of sea turtles falling victim to bycatch off the coast of Jalisco and Nayarit is on the rise, with dragnets used by shrimp trawlers the biggest cause of the problem.

At a meeting between fishing and environmental organizations in Puerto Vallarta earlier this month, the Jalisco chief of the federal Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) heard about the extent of the problem in just one section of the coast.

In Bahía de Banderas — which straddles the coast of the two states — there were 170 registered cases of sea turtles caught inadvertently in nets this fishing season alone, members of the Bahía Unida organization told Sergio Hernández González.

“. . . the problem is that the fishing industry has not respected the regulations to use methods that avoid bycatch; it’s a problem that we hadn’t properly detected and it opens our eyes to the reality that turtles continue to confront when they move towards land to deposit their eggs,” Hernández explained.

However, awareness of the problem as well as measures to combat it are not new.

Since 1997, the federal environmental protection agency (Profepa) has inspected and certified shrimp trawlers to ensure that they correctly use turtle excluder device (TEDs), which allow a captured sea turtle to escape when caught in a net.

But the problem has continued despite the increased vigilance, pointing to the presence of a large number of clandestine trawlers that are operating illegally.

One fisherman and local cooperative member told the newspaper Milenio that fishing boats, especially those from other coastal states such as Colima and Sinaloa, have not respected local prohibitions on turtle hunting or closed seasons for many years and blamed authorities for not enforcing the bans.

“. . . There is no authority that says, ‘those kinds of boats can’t come in here’ . . . the banned zones are not marked but they know them and that’s why they wait until night to go in with their lights off, [to trawl] at a depth of between eight and 10 fathoms, causing the death of species at that depth . . .” Carlos Ramírez said.

However, there is some good news for the much-loved marine species.

The hunting of turtles and theft of their eggs has decreased significantly while designated protection areas in Jalisco and Nayarit, known as turtle camps, have achieved good results, the Semarnat official said, although he added that further improvements could still be made.

“. . . We want to integrate the federal government camps that the Natural Protected Area Commission (Conanp) operates with the private camps in one strategy,” Hernández said.

In total, more than 3 million eggs were collected at 14 camps in the two states this nesting season, allowing them to hatch in safe conditions, and almost 2 million young turtles were subsequently released.

The majority of the turtles that arrive on the Pacific coast are olive ridleys or tortugas golfinas as they are known in Mexico.    

Source: Milenio (sp)

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