Technical and Management Aspects and Socio-Cultural Perceptions of Sea Turtle Bycatch in Ecuador

Gaibor N (2016) Technical and Management Aspects and Socio-Cultural Perceptions of Sea Turtle Bycatch in Ecuador. PhD Thesis, University of Rhode Island

Due to the technological improvements of the last two decades, it is possible for innovations to follow each other rapidly. However, not all innovations are useful ones, and a lot of producers often do not know how to market their new products. Diffusion theory, started by Gabriel Tarde (1903), first proposed the S-shaped diffusion curve. After this research few investigations followed until 1943. In this year Bryce Ryan and Neal Gross published their study about innovation diffusion. This led to an enormous overflow of publications. Later, Rogers (2003) contributed additional research and many others followed him.

When an individual or a company comes up with a new idea, they want this idea to be adopted by all potential users as soon as possible. This spreading of an innovation is called diffusion. According to Rogers (1995) diffusion is: “The process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.” Therefore, an innovator should spread this message by multiple channels to inform as many people as possible who could be interested in this new idea. When this is done properly, one is able to follow the adoption process and can determine if the innovation is rejected or adopted. So, diffusion is the adoption process of the population.

Fisheries bycatch is considered the most serious global threat to marine species, particularly sea turtles. During the past 20 years, the use of different types of fishing gear, especially pelagic longlines (Carranza et al. 2006, Pradhan & Leung 2006, Swimmer et al 2005), have reduced the population of sea turtles and other marine fauna (Peckham et al 2007, Bugoni et al 2008, Alfaro Shingueto et al 2010) due mainly to bycatch (Broderick et al 2006). As a result these species have become subject to intensive conservation efforts.

One of our research questions when examining circle hooks was: which factors influence an individual to try a new fishing gear device? Considerable research indicates that attitudes towards an adoption of change are influenced by a number of community and individual level variables (Rogers 2003). Adoption research methods attempt to predict behavior regarding innovations as perceived by potential adopters by assessing acceptability of innovations (Tango-Lowy & Robertson 2002). This technology was introduced to reduce the consequences of fisheries bycatch.

In order to reduce the incidental capture of sea turtles in commercial fisheries, NOAA has been studying the efficacy of Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRD) such as circle hooks (CH). Alongside other international agencies, NOAA has supported training and outreach efforts to spread knowledge of proper baiting and hooking techniques since the mid-90s. The circle hook NOAA advocates is less likely to be swallowed by sea turtles, reducing the risk of drowning.

As a consequence of those findings, the circle hook was introduced in Latin America to replace traditional J-shaped hooks with the purpose of reducing sea turtle bycatch. To see the effects of this BRD on sea turtles in the artisanal long line fisheries of Ecuador, a joint venture project started in 2003 amongst the following agencies: the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC); the World Wild Fund (WWF); the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC); NOAA; the Ocean Conservancy; the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC); and the Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Foundation of Japan (OFCF Japan). In addition to the support of these agencies, this program received support from the Ecuadorian government and local organizations, such as: the Undersecretariat of Fishery Resources (SRP); the “Programa Nacional de Observadores Pesqueros de Ecuador” (PROBECUADOR); the “Asociación de Exportadores de Pesca Blanca” (ASOEXPEBLA); the “Federación Nacional de Cooperativas de Pescadores en el Ecuador” (FENACOPEC); the “Escuela de Pesca del Pacífico Oriental” (EPESPO) of Manta; and the Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL). All gave their support and participated in different activities, especially training workshops that educated local fishermen concerning circle hooks and trained fishermen in their use. This program grew to become a region-wide bycatch network and the largest regional artisanal fisheries conservation program in Latin America.

In order to understand the factors influencing an individual to try a new fishing gear, this study augments existing literature on adoption and diffusion, providing evidence of the importance of learning from individual perceptions regarding the adoption of new technologies. The goals of this study are to determine whether the initiative to promote circle hooks and turtle exclusion devices as turtle conservation tools is well perceived by fishers, and also to learn from them if they significantly reduce or do not reduce the capture and mortality of sea turtles.

Although this study has focused on potential issues related to adoption and diffusion of two bycatch reduction devices, there is no doubt that these fishing technologies can be successfully applied as a partial solution to the problem of sea turtle bycatch. Nevertheless, it is through the recognition of potential sociocultural factors and taking steps toward their solution that we can facilitate successful technology transfer wherever and whenever it is needed.

The first chapter attempts to identify perceptions of fishers in the transfer technology that affect an individual’s willingness to accept an innovation. Rogers’ theoretical framework forms the basis for adoption research and is used to structure a wide variety of studies such as; organizational culture conflict (Reeves-Ellington 1998), resistance to increase regulations in the shrimp fishery (Johnson et al 1998), and coastal development programs (Aswani & Weiant 2004; Pollnac & Pomeroy 2005). Innovation attributes are the perceived properties of an innovation that influence a potential adopters’ decision (Rogers 2003). Adoption research assesses perception of innovation attributes by potential adopters to better explain adoption practices or how to better design innovations for project participants. In the context of this study, relationships of the factors of attitudes toward fishing, future perspective and perceptions of recovery activities with willingness to participate, were investigated.

This approach examines individual perceptions and experience with the transfer technology of circle hooks and how fishers affect acceptance of this innovation. Rogers (2003) suggests that adoption of innovations is more likely if a need exists or it is arises among the members of a community. This approach examines individual perceptions and experience with the transfer technology of circle hooks and how fishers affect acceptance of an innovation in general. Rogers (2003) suggests that adoption of innovations is more likely if a need exists or arises. Future perspective is an individual characteristic that can be an indicator of willingness to adopt an innovation (Rogers 2003). The study area is six villages in the Ecuadorian coast that have knowledge of the existence of this new BRD.

Although the effort to transfer circle hook technology has occurred in Ecuador since 2004, there is no doubt that its diffusion process has been slow in most of the fishing towns in this study. Survey results indicate that circle hook adoption in Ecuador is low; only 64 out of 272 informants (23 percent) indicated that they used circle hooks on their boats. Adoption is not easy, especially when the Ecuadorian fishers have spent many years fishing with J hooks. They have time yet to learn and/ or develop adequate techniques to operate with circle hooks, so we can hope that with more time we will see improvements in their catch rates with circle hooks in the future.

Chapter two examines the unintended consequences of technology transfer; specifically, circle hooks in fisheries as a conservation initiative that was intended to curb the accidental capture of sea turtles in Ecuadorian longline fisheries. However, results from this study indicate that BRD can have unintended consequences on other species, specifically sharks. The hypothesis of this study is that the presence of an Ecuadorian shark fishery is a consequence of the most recent Government regulation on sharks coupled with a lucrative international shark fin market may create incentives to misuse this technology and target sharks.

The goal of this analysis is to determine to what extent the promotion of circle hooks as a turtle conservation tool has led to the unintended consequence of circle hooks, which are highly effective in capturing large species such as tuna and swordfish, being used to exploit a regulation that allows fishers to keep any shark caught as bycatch. Ironically, the very device being promoted to conserve the sea turtles is being exploited to catch shark, a regulated species. This study concludes that fishers purposefully use circle hooks rather than j-hooks as a “work around” to catch regulated shark species as bycatch and within the regulations, keep them.

The lucrative trade in shark fins and the incidental established shark fishery in Ecuador provide an incentive to use the circle hook to target sharks. There is no easy solution to this problem. Ecuador, and those at the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), are in the unenviable position of trying to decide with uncertain science whether to promote a hook that may save sea turtles but put sharks at risk.

Finally, chapter three evaluates fishermen’s perceptions regarding the use of the Turtle Excluder Devices (TED), and if this BRD ensures conservation of sea turtles to assure better fisheries management. Actions and decisions regarding any new regulation must be taken with regards to not only scientific information, but also the welfare of all stakeholders involved in one specific fishery. Decisions should not favor one fishery sector or group. Decisions should attempt to favor all the stakeholders as well as the marine resources.

Bycatch reduction is a result of the use of more selective fishing gears such as trawl nets equipped with TEDs. Although this device was, in some way, imposed by the US to enforce its use by the Ecuadorian shrimp vessels and to avoid any ban on shrimp exportation, results of this study indicate that 82% of shrimp vessels use this device, 74% of interviewees obey the use of TEDs because they consider (84%) that it protects sea turtles when they are trapped by the shrimp trawlers, and 72% responded that bycatch has decreased in the past 24 years.

This study concluded that the use of TEDs in Ecuador, although it was imposed in a top-down management manner driven by the interests of government agencies in export markets, its use over the years may have helped sea turtles survive and may have reduced the bycatch of sea turtles.