Observing tuna longline fishing for the bycatch of marine turtles, sharks and other fish species, while testing the application of new hook technology (circle hooks) in order to reduce bycatch will be the focus of the “Marine turtle bycatch and longline observer program” project – Phase II. The project is implemented by WWF with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Dutch company IbroMar B.V which, as one of the leading buyers of long line caught yellow fin tuna in Vietnam, is co-funding the circle hook program as part of their sustainable tuna fisheries program.
According to Mr. Keith Symington, WWF Bycatch Strategy Leader for the Coral Triangle and Western Pacific, “these activities will help not only reduce marine turtle bycatch mortality – a key conservation objective - but will also help bridge improvements in overall tuna fisheries management, a key fisheries reform strategy ofWWF’s Smart Fishing Network Initiative (SFNI)”.
Started in November 2006, Phase I of the project targeted fishing communities in three provinces: Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, Khanh Hoa. It aimed to raise awareness of the role of marine turtles in ocean ecosystems, the impact of fishing activities on these endangered species, and to identify “hot spots” where marine turtles interact with fishing gear within Vietnam’s territorial. Marine turtle rescue and handling techniques were also introduced to fishermen.
“We thought that turtles managed to cheat us: they pretend to be dead when taken on board and then awake and swim very fast once released back to the sea. Now I know that they are just like humans, having lungs and susceptible to drowning too. We also know how important sea turtles are to the marine ecosystem. We need to protect them!” expressed a fisherman from Phu Yen after the training course recently organized in Nha Trang (Khanh Hoa province). A similar course was held in Quy Nhon (Binh Dinh province).
Nguyen Thi Dieu Thuy, WWF’s Fisheries Officer said “The project is beneficial for not only fishing communities but also professionals. After receiving training on observer program protocols, bycatch species identification and data recording, three scientists from the Research Institute of Marine Fisheries (RIMF) boarded three longline fishing boats from Binh Dinh to test their training and begin recording data.”
“The result of their trips will serve to enlarge the observer program and commence circle hook trials in early 2009 with new support from NOAA. This will be a key activity of phase II scheduled to last through to January of 2010”, Thuy added.
Commenting on their new working partnership with WWF, IbroMar B.V Director Martin Brugman said “There are still big tasks ahead but, as the message we tried to bring towards fishermen, observers and other participants: 'together we can'”. IbroMar’s sustainable fisheries program “aims to facilitate more sustainable long line fishing in Vietnam whilst improving its’ quality to the highest possible level”, added Mr. Brugman.