THOUSANDS of endangered marine turtles could be saved in the Coral Triangle region if the fishing industry started using innovative and responsible fishing gear, a WWF analysis shows.
Towards the Adoption of Circle Hooks to Reduce Fisheries Bycatch in the Coral Triangle Region makes a strong case for governments, fishing organizations and fisheries to start implementing Circle Hooks. “All it takes is a simple change in fishing gear to help reduce marine turtle bycatch while upholding more efficient and responsible fishing practices,” says Keith Symington, WWF Coral Triangle Bycatch Strategy Leader.
Circle Hooks are simple yet innovative fishing gear that are sharply curved back in a circular shape and have demonstrated a significant reduction in the hooking rate of marine turtles in longline fisheries by as much as 80 percent compared to traditional hooks. Because of its round shape and inward-pointing sharp end, Circle Hooks are found to be less harmful to turtles if swallowed and do not cause much internal damage once pulled out, as opposed to currently used slimmer hooks with a more exposed pointed end that can cause severe damage to turtles when accidentally ingested. Studies show that shifting to Circle Hooks maintains previous catch rates of target species at the very least or generates an even higher catch rate of target species in the majority of cases.
Due to their tendency to hook in the mouth, Circle Hooks also increase post-hook survival of fish, leading to harvesting fresher and better quality seafood.
Despite its proven efficacy, Circle Hooks have yet to be standardized and broadly accepted in the region. The continued application of tariffs and import tax on eco-friendly fishing gears poses as one of the obstacles hindering its mainstream use.
“This slow transition to Circle Hooks is as surprising as it is unacceptable,” says Symington. “We need the support of governments and regional bodies to ensure that such readily available and proven effective tools are made accessible to help put a stop to this easily preventable problem.”
Bycatch or the indiscriminate catch of non-target species in fisheries remains to be one of the most critical marine conservation issues in the Coral Triangle today, threatening marine biodiversity and the delicate ecological balance of oceans. In this region alone, tens of thousands of marine turtles are estimated to be accidentally killed each year by longline fishing operations.
“It is imperative for the fishing industry to start adopting more responsible fishing methods if they are to benefit from the growing demand for more responsibly-caught seafood; the use of Circle Hooks provides a win-win solution for all,” adds Symington.
An increasing number of seafood companies and individual fishers have already caught on to the market benefits of using Circle Hooks and have been fully on board WWF’s Circle Hook programme, attesting to the economic and environmental effectiveness of this tool and seeing it as a crucial step towards sustainability.