Engaging fishers in sea turtle conservation in the Mediterranean Sea

Virgili M, Petetta A, Barone G, et al (2024) Engaging fishers in sea turtle conservation in the Mediterranean Sea. Marine Policy 160:105981. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2023.105981

In the Mediterranean Sea, more than 121,000 sea turtles are incidentally caught each year by a variety of fishing gears, with more than 33,000 deaths and a mortality rate ranging from 10 to 50% depending on the type of fishing gear. Defining how to engage the fishers who are directly involved in incidental catches of turtles is critical to raise their interest, increase awareness and foster their collaboration with the scientific community and authorities. We developed a conceptual model to define the objectives of sea turtle conservation (Final Targets, FTs) at a management, technical, educational, and social level. The achievement of FTs was assessed through four Indicators (interest, scepticism, awareness, cooperation) based on the perception and behaviour of fishers. A 3-phase roadmap was set to engage fishers: 1) Meeting, it is the initial contact between the scientific community and the fishers to create baseline information on where, when, and how bycatch occurs; 2) Deepening the knowledge, it mainly consists on trainings to increase fishers’ awareness of good practices and sustainable fisheries; 3) In the field, where scientists and fishers test innovative bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) aboard on commercial fishing vessel to comprehend the perspective of fishers in terms of the technical solutions proposed by scientists. Combining a theoretical and an empirical approach, this study provides successful indications (bycatch hot-spots, technological innovation of fishing gear, communication strategies, eco-labelling, improved sea turtle survivability) on how to achieve large-scale sea turtle conservation, which could be replicated in other areas.