Protecting Turtles from the Threat of Bycatch


Releasing tagged turtle

The single greatest threat to most sea turtles is fishing gear. Hundreds of thousands of turtles are accidentally caught by gillnets, shrimp trawl nets and on longline hooks each year. Endangered loggerheads, green turtles and leatherbacks are especially vulnerable. WWF is working to reduce this threat by supporting innovations in fishing gear and raising awareness through education.

What WWF Is Doing

Keeping Turtles out of Fishing Nets

WWF is encouraging the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in shrimp trawlers, which allow marine turtles to safely escape from the nets. In Mozambique, WWF helped create a new law that makes TEDs mandatory in the country’s shrimp trawl fleet. Once implemented, this will save the lives of up to 5,000 marine turtles per year and allow Mozambican fishers to sell their shrimp to the U.S. market.

Studies show that visual cues play an important role in how marine turtles search for food. WWF’s Smart Gear competition, which promotes innovative solutions for reducing fisheries bycatch, yielded a way to deter turtles from gillnets using lights.

The idea is that widely available fishing lights (LED or chemical lightsticks) can be attached to nets to create enough of a warning to alert marine turtles to a barrier. Testing so far has shown encouraging results, with a reduction in the number of turtles caught in these illuminated nets, compared to those without lights. Turtle lights have the potential to be an effective device to reduce turtle bycatch around the world.

Supporting Innovations in Fishing Gear

Loggerhead Turtle

Circle hook.

WWF is working to introduce a different type of hook in Pacific longline fisheries that reduces marine turtle deaths by as much as 90 percent, without adversely affecting catches of swordfish and tuna. These "circle" hooks are much less likely to be swallowed by turtles than traditional J-shaped hooks, which cause suffocation or internal bleeding when swallowed.

In July 2012, the Ecuadorian government eliminated a significant import tax on circle hooks. The cost of circle hooks is a major obstacle to mass adoption of circle hooks by the Ecuadorian longliner artisanal fleet. The tariff elimination now helps to make circle hooks available in the Ecuadorian market at a competitive price. The government’s decision was made after analyzing a report prepared by WWF, which showed how circle hooks reduce bycatch of marine turtles and are therefore a more environmentally responsible gear.

WWF is also helping with the:

  • testing of different types of fish bait to see if they help reduce turtle bycatch
  • use of special tools to remove traditional hooks safely from turtles’ mouths
  • training communities on ways to safely release turtles back in to the wild

So far, nearly 700 fishing vessels from a total of nine countries in the Eastern Pacific have voluntarily converted to circle hooks and are using these tools and techniques.


Raising Awareness through Education

In the Coral Triangle, WWF has helped to teach fishermen how to rescue and resuscitate turtles found accidentally caught in fishing gear, and then to release them safely back into the sea. Such efforts show that fishermen play an important role in marine turtle conservation. WWF continues to create education and awareness opportunities among such communities.