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The impact of tropical prawn fisheries on sea turtles

Launched on World Sea Turtle Day (16 June 2017), this report reveals that the UK’s appetite for prawns could be responsible for the death of thousands of threatened marine turtles each year.

The report, which is produced by the French Guiana Fisheries Committee, estimates that up to 29,000 marine turtles are killed annually in tropical prawn trawls that export to the European Union, with the UK the EU’s largest individual market.

Based on EU figures (on per capita consumption of tropical shrimp), the report estimates that just under half (46 per cent) of prawns imported into the UK are wild-caught, most of which (86 per cent) are being fished by trawlers in tropical waters off the coast of countries including Bangladesh, India and Vietnam.

But in addition to catching prawns, large numbers of turtles, including species such as green, loggerhead and critically endangered hawksbill, can become entangled in nets and drown.

The accidental capture of turtles is drastically reduced by the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which are simple escape panels added into the body of the fishing nets that allow turtles to swim free. The US, which has banned tropical prawn imports where TEDs are not used, uses TEDs widely in its fisheries and countries including Costa Rica, Mexico and Nigeria have also introduced them.

TEDs have been proven to reduce the capture of marine turtles by up to 97 per cent, whilst only causing a minor reduction (of around 2 per cent) in the amount of prawns caught. Studies show that the removal of turtles from the haul also prevents the prawns being crushed and can therefore increase overall profitability.

WWF is calling on the UK government to require the implementation of Turtle Excluder Devices in tropical prawn trawling on all prawn imported into the UK.

Read the full report on the French Guiana Fisheries Committee website

Download WWF's factsheet (PDF) summarising the report