April 21, 2009

Endangered Marine Creatures Needlessly Discarded

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said Tuesday that Southeast Asian fisherman are killing sharks and endangered marine turtles every year by discarding them as "unwanted catch."

The global conservation group estimates that millions of pounds of marine creatures are caught in fishing nets and thrown away every year in the so-called Coral Triangle "“ an area spanning the seas of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. 

Scientists say the area contains the most diverse collection of marine species anywhere on earth.  The Coral Triangle is home to six of the world's seven known species of marine turtles, three of which are considered "endangered" and another three "critically endangered," the WWF said in a statement.

The WWF co-authored the study, which concluded that at least 38 million tons of fish, consisting of 40 percent of the world's recorded fish catch, is wasted, unused or unaccounted for.

Fish are highly unregulated in the Coral Triangle, resulting in many millions of pounds of so-called bycatch, the fund said.

"In many cases, fish and marine animals are thrown back to sea dead or dying and currently even if bycatch is used there is no way to tell whether it was sustainable to remove it in the first place," WWF Coral Triangle specialist Keith Symington told the AFP.

"It is an insidious and invisible form of over-fishing," he said.

"The at-sea bycatch of marine turtles, for example, is one of the greatest threats to the future existence of these highly endangered animals. Marine turtle populations in this region have plummeted over the past decade due to indiscriminate fishing methods."

The WWF said it is introducing circle hooks to dramatically reduce turtle bycatch from tuna longlines without sacrificing fishing efficiency.

"Circle hooks or C-hooks are a better alternative to the currently used J-hooks because of their round shape, which makes it difficult for turtles to swallow as opposed to the sharper-ended J-hook that can cause severe damage to turtles when accidentally ingested," said Symington, adding that bycatch is a "major killer of marine wildlife, putting several species at risk of extinction and drastically altering the sensitive balance of marine ecosystems."

The study's findings far exceed previous estimates, which focused primarily on the 7 to 27 million tons of catch thrown away each year.

The findings will be published in an upcoming edition of Marine Policy, a journal of ocean policy studies.


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