Training of Costa Rican longline fishermen, fishery observers and government agencies to increase post-release survival of incidentally captured sea turtles
Incidental capture of sea turtles is an important problem in fisheries worldwide, and one of the main causes of the decrease of their populations. While effective alternatives to reduce incidental capture are studied and put in place, identifying methods to increase an animal’s probability of survival after incidental capture is a priority. There are currently already a number of techniques and procedures which are well known, and which can already be recommended or discouraged in order to increase the chances of an animal surviving the interaction with fisheries. All this information should be passed onto fishermen, fishery observers and government agencies in order to improve marine turtle post-release survival. Costa Rica is currently very interested to address its problems with fisheries interacting with marine turtles in a proactive and effective way, and wants to work on this issue to comply with the regulations recently put forward by the Government. In November 2014 the Executive Decree N. 38681-MAG-MINAE was published on the “Management for the efficient use of tuna and similar species in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Costa Rican Pacific” (popularly know as “the Tuna Decree”). This requires, among other regulations, the training of fishermen and fishery observers in these best practices, and the use of adequate equipment and tools on board longline vessels. Furthermore, the private sector (both producers and seafood exporters) has expressed its compromise to improve its operations towards a responsible and sustainable fishing of large pelagic fish. Two important processes are currently taking place in the country, including: a) the implementation of “the Tuna Decree”; and b) the beginning of a project to improve the mahi-mahi fishery, in response to the demands of the US market, which wants products coming from responsible fisheries. Both cases require the application of measures to mitigate the incidental capture of marine turtles. Additionally, Costa Rica is a full member of the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC), which includes several resolutions and recommendations for bycatch mitigation and reporting. Costa Rica is now in an optimal moment to develop training programs in the best handling techniques of sea turtles on board longline vessels. In order to cater for this compromise and momentum, the organization of several technical workshops was proposed and carried out in this project. These workshops were considered a further step of the Government Fishery Agency (the Costa Rican Institute of Fishing and Aquaculture - INCOPESCA) and the Environmental Ministry (MINAE) to engage fishermen, industry, national NGOs and the government inspectors in the protection of marine turtles, trying to find solutions together to improve fishermen’s work while minimizing threats to sea turtle conservation. These training sessions were funded by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). De-hooking equipment was provided by IAC as matching contribution.