Loggerhead Turtle By-catch Highlights Importance of Local Solutions
Arriving in Baja California, Mexico for the first time, S. Hoyt Peckham encountered something out of the twilight zone - endangered loggerhead turtle carcases strewn carelessly across the beaches. Peckham soon discovered the grisly scene was the result of by-catch from the fishing industry. As a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz he was so moved by the scene that he dedicated the next six years of his life to studying the problems associated with by-catch.
Peckham and his colleagues published a surprising paper yesterday that shows how small-scale local fisheries, employing over 99% of the world's 51 million fishers, are likely the greatest threat to by-catch of species like the loggerhead turtles. It also shows how local solutions involving a better understanding of the marine environment and the behavior of organisms can lead to tremendous gains in developing a sustainable fishery.It's hard to imagine, but just 80 small fishing boats (6-9 meters long) in local waters likely caught more loggerhead turtles as by-catch than the rest of the North Pacific fishing industry. The local boats were also greater than 13 times more likely to hook a loggerhead turtle than their open sea counterparts. This is because juvenile loggerhead turtles spend a good deal of their time concentrated in the same places as the local small-scale fisheries.
New studies are revealing that a range of migratory megafauna, like the loggerhead turtle, spend considerable time in coastal waters. The solution the researchers touched upon is two-fold. First is educating the local fishery of the potential global impact in their area, and second is to to encourage local fisherman to change their fishing practices to lower impact methods.
Peckham worked with the conservation group Grupo Tortuguero in Baja California to effect change in fishing practices. This August one of the local fishing fleets agreed to switch from using long-lines to using nets, potentially saving hundreds of loggerheads a year. "I doubt I'll achieve a conservation action in my career that will be as important as that," Peckham says.
I don't know about that- discovering that small local fishers can impact the global distribution and possible extinction of a globally distributed species is an important bit of conservation research. Truly an example where thinking globally and acting locally can change the world.