Fisheries bycatch is considered to be the most significant threat to all seven species of sea turtles. Green sea turtles and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are listed as Endangered and Critically Endangered, respectively, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  

While sea turtles can be caught and killed in most types of fisheries, bottom trawls, gillnets/trammel nets, demersal gear, and longlines are the biggest contributors to sea turtle bycatch. 

The following are some best practices to reduce unintended interactions with sea turtles in fisheries. (As our initiative develops, we will expand this list to include more best practices for all types of fishing gear:

  • Using turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on shrimp nets
  • Using circle hooks, which are wider and more difficult for sea turtles to get hooked on
  • Using finfish bait instead of squid, to reduce sea turtle interactions
  • Reducing the amount of time fishing gear is in the water, which can reduce mortality in incidentally captured turtles, because they can be released sooner
  • Removing the first or second hooks on a line in shallower water, to reduce the likelihood of capturing sea turtles
  • Replacing multifilament lines with monofilament, which is less flexible, making it easier to release entangled sea turtles
  • Setting lines in water deeper than 100 meters
  • Covering the point of hooks
  • Avoiding the use of light sources, to lessen the sea turtles’ ability to see the baited hooks
  • Using weighted or leaded swivels to keep baited hooks weighted down
  • Increasing observer coverage on fishing vessels to 100 percent (human and electronic) coverage.

In the Gulf of Mexico, six different fishery improvement projects are working to reduce impacts on sea turtles by asking shrimpers to conduct proactive gear inspections of their Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), to catch and fix problems and ensure the devices are working effectively. These efforts have generated a high degree of compliance, and recent inspections show that this program has been effective in protecting sea turtles. An estimated 99.5 percent of the US Gulf of Mexico shrimp harvest is covered by these FIPs.