Headed out to sea, the boat looks like any of the hundreds of commercial fishing boats that trawl the ocean floor for shrimp and other catch every day in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape, a vast, species-rich marine region co-managed by the governments of Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.
But today this boat has another mission. The conservationists on board – composed of Conservation International’s (CI) partners in Sabah, Malaysia, the Marine Research Foundation (MRF) and allies in the fishing industry – are here to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) in reducing fishery bycatch without impacting intended catch. The unintentional capture of non-target species like sea turtles, sharks and marine mammals is currently responsible for the unnecessary death of millions of animals every year.
As the net trawls the ocean floor and scoops up everything in its path, a scuba diver releases a sea turtle into the net. The turtle floats through the net’s tunnel-like column, which is shaped like a Chinese finger trap, until it meets a metal grate and is ejected back into open water through an opening in the net.
BLOG: Are Your Shrimp Turtle-Friendly?
Many trawlers in the 100 million-hectare (almost 250 million-acre) seascape view TEDs with concern, fearing that the devices will reduce fish catch and entail huge financial losses. However, through the work being done by CI and its partners, these fears and misconceptions are slowly being addressed. By protecting iconic species while improving practices for local fishermen, TEDs are transforming the way fisheries operate in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape’s Sea Turtle Corridor.
The State of Our Fisheries
In 2009, CI supported the travel of leading shrimp businessmen and fishery officers from Sandakan, Malaysia to the United States to learn about the proper use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in shrimp trawls. After witnessing how TEDs actually work and how they are considered standard fishing equipment in other parts of the world, participants of the trip came home fully convinced that the devices should be adopted.
Of the many benefits that the world’s oceans provide for humanity, food is probably the first that comes to mind. Fisheries provide 2.9 billion people with at least 15 percent of animal protein consumption, though that percentage is much higher in some coastal and island countries. Dramatic advances in industrial fishing technology since the 1950s have also helped make seafood the most highly traded food commodity in the world; in 2008, fish and shellfish exports from developing countries exceeded the value of coffee, rubber, cocoa, tea, tobacco, meat and rice combined.
LEARN MORE: The importance of sustainable fisheries
Yet this remarkable yearly catch comes at a high price – we are depleting out vital marine resources faster than they can be replenished. One recent estimate reported that every year, industrial fishing boats dump 48 billion pounds of bycatch into the sea. Ninety percent of many of our ocean’s top predators are gone, a reality that threatens to topple the delicate balance of marine ecosystems, which depend on these keystone species to maintain ecosystem function. Fisheries in regions like West Africa have all but collapsed, causing unprecedented immigration to Europe as former fishers search for new livelihoods.
Saving Turtles, Helping Fishermen
Turtle Excluder Device (TED) © Calen Offield
TEDs were created to help reduce bycatch of large, non-target animals in the commercial shrimp trawling sector. The metal grate in the net allows shrimp and other small fish to filter through, while releasing larger animals like sea turtles back into the open water.
Not only do TEDs have a clear benefit for the species they are saving, but they also improve conditions for people whose livelihoods depend on the sea. They improve the catch quality and reduce fuel costs by lessening the weight pulled by the trawl nets. In addition, by preserving the sea turtle population, fishermen help expand the region’s potential for ecotourism, which depends on the presence of unique wildlife to attract tourists.
In the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape, CI, MRF and the Sabah Department of Fisheries initiated an innovative collaboration with the shrimp fishing sector to expand the use of TEDs in the corridor. The seascape supports important populations of sea turtles as well as a thriving trawling industry, making it a prime candidate for TEDs.
IN VIDEO: Saving Turtles, Helping Fisheries with Turtle Exclusion Devices (developed by the Marine Research Foundation, a CI partner based in Sabah)
In 2009, CI supported the travel of leading shrimp businessmen and fishery officers from Sandakan, Malaysia to the United States to learn about the proper use of TEDs in shrimp trawls. Through their interactions with American shrimp trawlers, they learned that using TEDs does not diminish catch. After witnessing how TEDs actually work and how they are considered standard fishing equipment in other parts of the world, participants of the trip came home fully convinced that the devices should be adopted.
Back home, the participants immediately went to work, organizing gatherings among their peers in order to share what they learned. An initial batch of fishing boats were enlisted to try out the TEDs, and the data being generated will be used to show other fishing operators how beneficial using the devices can be, paving the way towards the formulation of policy on the use of TEDs in Sabah.
A Crucial Step for Fisheries Reform
Despite their relatively recent invention, TEDs are fast becoming essential components of trawlers. In recent months, the United States has taken steps to ban the importation of shrimp from fishers in Mexico and several other countries who are not taking measures to reduce bycatch in their nets. This commitment has positive implications for the fate of sea turtles – and fisheries – worldwide.
Fisheries reform is an important component of CI’s marine strategy, which emphasizes replicating local successes on an international, ocean-wide scale. By expanding the use of TEDs and other sustainable fishing methods, we can restore the health of our fisheries and ensure that they can continue to provide for us for generations to come.
READ MORE: Turtles in Peril