Marine turtle populations in Pakistan are being been depleted through harvests of eggs and adults and as bycatch in shrimp trawl fisheries. Trawl fisheries are considered one of the world’s greatest fisheries-related threats to sea turtles but Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) offer practical low-cost solutions allowing catch to be retained while turtles are excluded. Pakistan is a registered TED user nation with the US Department of State, but for many years implementation of TED regulations has been scarce.

We conducted an interview-based baseline survey to assess the current state of the fishery, the rate of turtle bycatch, recent and historic trends, and the uptake of TEDs. Over 300 respondents provided a robust first look at the impact of shrimp trawling on sea turtle populations.

IMG_1051The results depicted a clear reliance on shrimp fishing by a the majority of all respondents, who used trawl nets primarily but occasionally other gears such as seines, traps and hook and line. Fishers were generalists, targeting fish and shrimp, with nets being deployed throughout the day and night, but mostly at daybreak and dusk. Fishing operations were consistent with other countries, with trawl speeds of 2-4kn with nets 50ft long and 20-30ft wide. The key concern with nets was the use of extremely small mesh sizes (<1/2” stretched).

The majority (94%) of fishers reported encountering turtles on a frequent basis, with over half reporting interacting with more than one turtle in the last year. Green and Olive Ridley turtles made up the bulk of the bycatch, but loggerheads and even the occasional leatherback were reported. A worrying 14% also indicated they knew of purposeful turtle hunting. 85% of fishers reported catching at least one turtle in the past year, with 11% reporting catching between 2 an 10, and a worrying 14% indicating they had caught more then 10. While fishers report that the trend in captures is decreasing, this is likely linked to overall numbers of turtles rather than any change in practices.

Given a fishery fleet of 551 vessels operating out of Karachi, the potential bycatch of sea turtles ranges from 1817 to 2381 turtles in just the last year based on feedback from fishers. This is calculated based on 71.7% of fishers reporting catching at least one turtle (395 turtles), 12.7% of fishers catching 2 to 10 (141 to 705 potential turtle captures) and 15.5% reporting catching more than 10 turtles (at a conservative 15 turtles on average, this represents and additional 1281 turtles.

Nearly all fishers knew what TEDs were and reported that they had used them in the past, but most also reported having received little or no training, and encountering problems with the TED, and the lack of interest in participating in voluntary trials is reflective of the fear they have of catch loss.

Clearly there is a massive bycatch problem with the shrimp fishery that needs to be addressed. I suggest a diverse programme of trials and demonstrations, along with the development of a technical TED team, to reintroduce TEDs amongst fishers and save sea turtles in Pakistan.

This work was funded by a US AID grant to IUCN Pakistan.