The Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) recently received reports of a green sea turtle impaled by a barbed fishing lure in the waters off Hengchun Peninsula in Pingtung County. The lure pierced the turtle’s chin, neck and left fin, visibly tugging at the animal’s skin with every fin stroke. The injured turtle was spotted by divers who captured video footage of the scene.
According to Taiwan’s Wildlife Conservation Act, members of the public are not permitted to make contact with sea turtles – even in cases where the animals are injured – and ocean rescues are the preserve of highly-trained, specialist teams. In light of this, EAST contacted the Pingtung County Animal Protection Section and the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium to consult the relevant professionals about the possibility of intervening to treat this injury.
The Pingtung County Animal Protection Section and National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium both confirmed they had received reports about the case from members of the public. However, they expressed that because the turtle’s life was not in immediate danger, the possibility the turtle had moved from where it was sighted and the complexity of ocean resources, they were unable to intervene to help the turtle.
Four years ago, the two bodies convened a meeting to respond to the large number of similar reported cases. They concluded that an ocean rescue would only be launched if a turtle’s life was under immediate threat.
At least one million people engage in angling in Taiwan, according to government statistics. Despite its popularity, lost and discarded hooks and lures from angling activities have resulted in countless documented cases of sea turtles suffering injury or death.
The Ocean Affairs Council (OAC) has formulated directives for the management of angling zones. The directives provide a basis for local authorities enacting their own management schemes. However, the Council’s directives do not include any restrictions on the use of barbed hooks and lures (barbs make it harder for turtles to free themselves), nor do they recommend restrictions on angling in sea turtle hot spots.
These additions would make it easier for local government authorities to introduce appropriate regulations for angling activities, reducing the risk of lost or discarded fishing gear becoming a hazard for turtles.
EAST calls on local and central government authorities to take urgent action to address the issue of fishing gear pollution.
In particular, as the authority responsible for marine conservation, EAST urges the Ocean Conservation Administration to amend its angling zone directives to restrict angling in sea turtle hot spots and prohibit the use of barbed fishing hooks and lures.
In addition, EAST urges the Administration to develop and promote wildlife-friendly fishing gear with lower risk of harming non-target marine species.