Bycatch of Sea Turtles in Pelagic Longline Fisheries – Australia

Robins CM, Bache S J, Kalish S R (2002) Bycatch of Sea Turtles in Pelagic Longline Fisheries – Australia. Bureau of Rural Sciences, Australia

The possibility of sea turtles interacting with longline gear in Australian waters has been recognised for almost a decade (Miller, 1993). The magnitude of the problem, however, is unknown. Indeed, there is a pressing need for the issue of sea turtle bycatch in Australian longline fisheries to be addressed. This is especially so in light of the United States practice of extending domestic law to foreign fishing states through the use of trade embargoes. In the United States, in response to a level of sea turtle mortality that is unacceptable under U.S. legislation, a significant area of the north Pacific Ocean pelagic longline fishing grounds has been closed to longliners, a proposal has been submitted to close a large area of the north Atlantic fishing grounds, and a range of restrictions have been placed on other fisheries (Federal Register: April 10, 2002; Vol. 67, No. 69). In relation to the Australian domestic scene, requirements to protect marine species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) will impose comparable high standards upon fishing activities, and any responsible activity, in Commonwealth and State waters.

To address the pressing need for information on the Australian situation, this report documents available information on sea turtle bycatch in Australian pelagic longline fisheries. Information was obtained from observer programs and logbooks, through fisher and scientist interviews, and from the available literature.

Since 1996, sea turtle interactions have been reported by Australian pelagic longlining fishing skippers (fishing masters) in logbooks. This information is currently the most comprehensive data available on sea turtle captures by Australian longline vessels. Unfortunately, these data remain unverified and, hence, without supporting information such as that collected by independent observers, are open to criticism. There have been a small number of observer programs conducted on domestic and international longliners in Australian waters that have reported sea turtle interactions. Fisher interviews were conducted with 45 longline fishers on the East and West coasts of Australia between October 2001 and March 2002. Fishers answered questions on the numbers of turtles caught, species distributions, fishing gear configurations, fishing methods, possible mitigation measures and their experiences with sea turtles while longlining.

In this report, scientific research, policy responses and legal information relating to longline turtle bycatch, based on evidence from North, Central and South America, the Mediterranean and elsewhere, is related to the Australian situation. The report documents published and grey literature as well as data, opinions and assumptions. There has been no attempt to report on sea turtle population models. The possible usefulness of mitigation measures and policy responses adopted overseas are examined in order to establish a set of monitoring and mitigation measures that may be suitable for implementation in Australian domestic fisheries.