A variety of maritime activities contribute to sea turtle deaths

By on August 21, 2017

Turtles Permits Money A three-part series

Ask what water-based activity interacts the most with threatened and endangered sea turtles and many will reply without hesitation: commercial fishing.

But state records show that to be incorrect.

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In the eight-week period beginning May 21, reports produced by the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission show a total of 101 incidental takes which are interactions with sea turtles. “Takes” mean any type of interaction and aren’t equated to mortality.

During that time frame, about five dozen are attributed to the beach nourishment projects in the northern municipalities.

As a condition of the project being allowed to proceed during the summer months, the company performing the work received an incidental take permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries section to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

A trawl with a skimmer net is used to purposely catch turtles and tag and release them away from the dredge used to pump the sand.

Although the number of turtles caught is much higher than the 17 projected, the method used to avoid mortality has been successful with only one death attributed to a turtle evading the net and being killed by the dredging operation.

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The turtles were caught in specially-designed trawling nets, then tagged by researchers and released at least three miles from the area where sand is removed from the bottom and then pumped on shore.

The increase in interactions corresponds with reports from those who work on the water that the numbers of turtles is escalating each year.

“That really isn’t surprising,” said Chris Batsavage, protected resources section chief with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. “We could be seeing the results of about 30 years of conservation efforts.”

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The next highest interaction reported is from recreational fishermen using hook and line. Most of these captures are from piers and are known to be under reported, said Sarah Finn, WRC Coastal Wildlife Diversity biologist who issues the weekly reports.

In the eight-week period, there were 15 turtles reported caught on hook and line. Most were released after removing the hook, but in some cases, the line broke or was cut, which allowed the turtle to swim away with hook and line attached.

There is no required incidental take permit for recreational fishing and the incidents are voluntarily self-reported.

Reports indicated that the turtles survived the incidents, but that doesn’t rule out interaction-related death at a later time.

Necropsies performed over the years have shown that turtle deaths attributed to interaction with fishing gear are frequently due to monofilament line entanglement, which can prevent the turtles from swimming properly. Or the line wraps around the head making it impossible for the turtle to feed.

Most recreational captures reported were from a couple of piers located in the southern part of the state, although the beach nourishment captures show an abundance of turtles along the northern beaches.

Finn said that there have been outreach efforts to pier operators to educate them about the importance of fishermen reporting the interactions but some operators were more interested than others in receiving the information to pass along to their customers.

Signs with instructions on how to report an incidental capture are to be posted on the piers so that recreational fishermen may voluntarily report the incidents.

Large mesh gill nets used by commercial fishermen to target flounder reportedly caught 13 turtles, five of which were dead, along the 301 miles of coastline between Corolla and Calabash.

This is the only fishing activity in the state required to have an Endangered Species Section 10 incidental take permit to operate.

The internal waters are broken into several sections and if the annual limit of captures for a defined area is met, the flounder fishery, i.e. use of large mesh gill nets, is shut down in that section.

Last year, there were frequent closures. Once closed, the section remains that way until the start of the new permit year which begins Sept. 1. Fishermen estimated losing up to several thousand dollars each in income due to the closures at a time when there was little else to fish for.

On July 28, 2017, “C” section was closed after the total of five allowed interactions were reached for the permit year which ends Aug. 31. This area includes Pungo, Tar-Pamlico, Neuse and Bay rivers.

The permit dictates how, when and what size gill nets can be used. It also requires observers to check nets to see if there is interaction and, if so, report it to the Division of Marine Fisheries.

But the highest mortality rate for reported interaction is attributed to research gear and other such activities in the water.

The research could be for education purposes, to gather data, sample or test possible new methods of fishing. Of the seven reported interactions with turtles, six of the turtles were reported to be dead — three in one research pound net.

Batsavage said that if a project receives any federal money, it must be covered by an ESA Section 7 permit. If no federal money is involved, the state issues a Scientific and Education Activity Permit.

Currently, there are 52 such permits issued for a broad range of activities and include other state agencies such as the aquariums, nonprofits conducting education, and researchers from universities.

Attempts to determine how many Section 7 permits have been issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for projects that receive federal money were unsuccessful.

Although the permits are generally for a one-year period, the placement of gear in the water could be for a short-term effort or sporadic activities throughout the year, said Batsavage.

Kathy Rawls, DMF Fisheries Management Section Chief, said that the federal projects are not reported to DMF so there is no master list that includes all such activity.

The most stringent permit conditions are those that commercial fishermen must comply with. The conditions also require at least a seven percent observer coverage of the large mesh net fishery.

To estimate the observer coverage, the number of observations in a section are multiplied by a number derived from a five-year average of trip ticket data for that section.

Why seven percent observer coverage?

“The seven percent arose from the settlement agreement between the parties, not from NOAA Fisheries,” wrote Jennie Lyons, NOAA Fisheries public affairs staff, when asked how the percentage was determined.

“However, NOAA Fisheries analyzed the action, including the 7 percent, and found that it met the requirements of the ESA 10(a)1(B) in that that: 1. the taking will be incidental; 2. the applicant will, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate the impacts of such taking; 3. the applicant will ensure that adequate funding for the plan will be provided; 4. the taking will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in the wild; and 5. all other measures that NOAA required as being necessary or appropriate for purposes of the plan were met.

“The action also satisfied ESA section 7(a)2 in that the action is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat of such species,” Lyons said.

Lyons was referring to the settlement agreement between the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle and Rehabilitation Center and the Division of Marine Fisheries, its former director, Louis Daniel and the Marine Fisheries Commission.

The settlement was signed in 2010 and includes a long list of agreed upon actions, some not being carried out.

Part two will detail the settlement agreement.

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Comments

Myron Smith

August 30, 2017 3:24 am

Very informative, lack of observers for each area of NC Coastal Waters. Also will the OBSERVERS BE OBSERVING AND COUNTING THE TURTLES WITH FISH HOOKS FROM RECREATIONAL FISHERMEN THAT KILL THOSE TURTLES? Have folks call in report and observers obtain FISH HOOKED TURTLES AND TAKE PICTURES WITH DATE, LOCATION FOUND by all folks. Then total those numbers for each Fishing area along NC coastal waters.

Theodore Boehme

August 24, 2017 12:15 pm

I think it’s really important to preserve all the different species of sea turtles.
It certainly would be a shame to go all the way to the Bahamas and not see it on many Bahamian Restaurant Menus. Yep…Nice to have a chance or choice of trying to eat sea turtle.

Right Hook

August 23, 2017 4:17 pm

OMG!! How horrific! These poor totally innocent creatures – these beloved precious turtles. How could we dare tolerate the loss of even one innocent life? Incredible that we are more pro life for a turtle than we are for the million precious innocent lives murdered each year in America under the guise of pro choice.

Bud

August 23, 2017 7:53 am

Too much emphasis on turtles and not enough on real issues on the outer banks and Hatteras Island.

Bill Hitchcock

August 22, 2017 10:24 am

Excellent article. Very well written!

gsurf123

August 22, 2017 8:52 am

For perspective on my first post do note that the of the article changed after I posted. It was “Researchers Kill More Turtles Than Commercial Fishing”, which is clickbait. I am glad I called the author out enough to get the title changed.

Lisa

August 21, 2017 9:10 pm

Gee, gsurf123, you’re really hiding your bias well!

As for plastic bags, if the bodies don’t show up with plastic bags inside them to indicate possible cause of death, there is likely no way to know how many die at sea from plastic. The ocean is a big place, and many animals die with little evidence to look at or count. As for the impact of ocean plastic on animals, just search for “Midway Atoll plastic” on Google Images to see the impact of plastic on wildlife. It will turn your stomach.

Sandy Semans

August 21, 2017 7:56 pm

Seven percent observer coverage is calculated on a year-by-year basis by averaging trip ticket data from the previous five years for each individual management unit to estimate how much gear is in it. Some unit areas rarely have turtle interactions while other areas are deemed as ‘hot spots’ where historically there are more turtles. Each management unit is assigned a total of permitted interactions that may occur before it is shut down. The seven percent is used to determine if there are enough observations taking place to meet the requirements of the Incidental Take Permit. That gear estimate which is different for each management area, is what is used to extrapolate the number of reported incidents to determine if the limit of allowable interactions has been reached. Applying the 7 percent to the reported interactions isn’t correct. And the incidental take reports are totals and not for individual management areas.

outerbanker

August 21, 2017 7:13 pm

Add another dredge sea turtle kill on 8-20-2017 on the Outer Banks beach nourishment project. Not to worry about what happens to them, they are only sea turtles. Remember “they” said the 67 incidential captures is a good thing.

Concerned Citizen

August 21, 2017 5:53 pm

Multiply the recreational turtle takes. Oh wait, there is zero percent observer coverage. You can’t multiply zero. This only proves that as Chris Batsavage suggests, turtle populations are doing well. What the environmentalists forget to tell everyone is that they don’t want any humans on the water. As soon as they rid the waters of commercial fishermen they are going to jump on the recreational boats next to shut all fishing down. The environmentalist want to force feed us imported seafood from countries that have no FDA, no fisheries management, and some use slave labor. Keep drinking the cool aid.

Dylandog

August 21, 2017 4:54 pm

No one ever said that plastic bags were the sole cause of deaths of sea turtles. Only that plastic bags contributed to deaths. It always amazes me how people will read into things that they want to believe and hang on to their own bias and not recognize the facts as reported. That said, drawing conclusions from such a small sample is known as inductive fallacy, a common error by those with a certain agenda. The article reports a small data set and nothing more.

Manteoer

August 21, 2017 4:46 pm

After 30 years of fishing here offshore there is,definitly more turtles sometime everywhere steering around them traveling to and from fishing g grounds. Ask any offshore captain here.

Sandy Semans

August 21, 2017 1:36 pm

Emily, the problem with extrapolating the commercial fishing interaction is there is no way to do the same with the other gear groups since they are self-reporting and there is no state observer data available on how many they actually catch. In the case of the research gear, there also are no reports about the total amount of research gear in the water since only state permit numbers are available. If there is federal money involved in funding research, they get a federal permit. The only way to do an apples to apples comparison is to base it on what is reported during a given time frame.

Really?

August 21, 2017 10:57 am

Oh my!! I thought EVERYBODY said it was plastic bags killing all the turtles. LOL!

Emily

August 21, 2017 10:57 am

You seem to be skipping some important math in presenting this data. If those commercial take numbers are a result of 7% observer coverage (as clearly stated in the piece), to get the total impact of ALL commercial large mesh gill net fishing, statistically speaking, you need to multiply those numbers by 14.3.
This equals about 186 takes and 71.5 mortalities, which puts it well at the top of the list for interactions.

gsurf123

August 21, 2017 9:47 am

The title of the article is an example of “fake news”, yellow journalism and clickbait. The sample size is so small that no conclusions whatsoever can be drawn, so it is foolish and misleading to even speculate unless the goal is to get people to look at the garbage being published.

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