Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 2nd 2013 Contents A28
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, December 2, 2013
Trinidad s leatherback population
is in a continuous and rapid
decline. The probable cause: gill
nets. Thousands of returning
leatherback females become entan-
gled in gillnets in Trinidad s waters.
Some drown due to entanglement,
others meet a more gruesome fate:
they are beaten to death. Shocking,
isn t it?
Gill nets are used by the artisanal
fishing industry---our local pirogue
fishing fleet. The nets hang suspend-
ed in the water, catching unsuspect-
But not just fish. Turtles don t see
the nets, and get stuck in them.
Turtles have lungs. Like us they need
to be at the surface to breathe.
Nobody knows for sure how many
turtles drown in nets. Official esti-
mates range from 1,000-3,000, but
it could be more. One fisherman told
me 18 got caught in his net one
night. All drowned. That s one net,
in one night.
Not all entangled turtles drown.
Sometimes the fishermen get to
them in time, and free them. Freeing
a leatherback is tricky. An average-
size leatherback weighs about 800
pounds. They have incredibly power-
ful flippers, and have been recorded
diving down to 4,200 feet. A fisher-
man has to be careful not to get
caught in a net together with a
leatherback, while trying to free it.
He could end up drowned at the
bottom of the sea.
Rather than untangle a turtle, it s
easier and safer to cut the turtle free
with a knife. There s a cost attached
to cutting the net: the replacement
material, labour and lost opportunity.
Nobody compensates the fisherman
for this. Each entanglement can cost
hundreds of dollars. Most fishermen
barely make ends meet. The choice
between saving a turtle and feeding
the family is easily made; the turtle
is beaten to death. When dead, the
turtle is safely untangled from the
Upset? Consider this: our fisher-
folk are among the poorest people in
the world, yet they are made to bear
the burden of conservation of the
critically endangered leatherback tur-
tle.Dr Scott A Eckert, of Wider
Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation
Network (Widecast), is a leading tur-
tle researcher. His report "An assess-
ment of population size and status
of Trinidad s Leatherback Sea Turtle
Nesting Colonies" (October 2013)
makes for scary reading. He states
that Trinidad s leatherback popula-
tion grew at an average of five per
cent per year from the 1990s
through 2006. Since 2006 the popu-
lation has been in decline. The over-
all Atlantic population is increasing,
leading him to believe that the cause
must be the local gill net fishery.
He draws a parallel between Mexi-
co and Trinidad. In 1979 more than
75,000 leatherbacks nested on the
Pacific coast of Mexico. By 1995, 16
years later, only 1,000 were left; even
fewer today. The cause: introduction
of a coastal gillnet fishery for sword-
fish in leatherback foraging grounds
off Chile and Peru.
We ve always used gillnets in
Trinidad, and the population still
went up once turtles were protected
on land. Why the problem now?
Kyle Mitchell, a turtle protector
from Matura, gave the possible
answer: he said a fisher from Port-
of-Spain came to fish at Matura
with a 5km long net. The entire
Matura beach is only eight km long.
The problem is that fish stocks are
down: overfishing, pollution, man-
grove destruction, seismic surveys
have decimated marine life. To sur-
vive, fishermen use longer nets, with
smaller mesh size. It s a race to the
bottom; the tragedy of the com-
mons. It s a good example of how
poor fishery management have a
Brent Plater, of the Wild Equity
Institute, drafted a plan for the gov-
ernment back in 2010. In short, the
plan called for a gillnet ban along
the turtle nesting areas, during turtle
nesting season. It s time to imple-
ment the plan---in fact, go a step
further, and ban gillnets altogether,
year-round. Fish stocks will bounce
We have a Green Fund bursting
with a few billion dollars. Take some
millions and retool the fishermen.
There are options: a-la-vive (live
bait), hook-and-line fishing, and
modern troll-line fishing will both
reduce turtle mortality by about 100
per cent. Turtle-friendly nets are
another option, but less desirable as
they only reduce mortality by 80 per
cent. All three options should see a
no net reduction in fisher income,
according to Widecast.
Fishermen at Grande Riviere are
already experimenting with the new
tackle. I spoke to some of them;
they told me of their frustrations.
They can t afford to lose their nets,
and they don t like being the cause
of so much turtle mortality.
They are from the same communi-
ties that save these creatures from
extinction. Let s give them the help
they deserve---both the turtles and
Marc de Verteuil is a director
of Papa Bois Conservation.
MARC DE VERTEUIL
The tragic death of Keyana Cumberbatch dominated this
week's news as well as the hearts of the citizens in T&T.
We are still grieving, regretting and accusing.
How long will the blame game go on?
Former Minister St Rose-Greaves blames PM Bissessar,
Opposition MP Browne blames Gender, Child and Youth
Minister De Coteau and the public blames the Govern-
ment's Children's Authority.
They are not the core of the issue. When are we going to
partly blame ourselves? Why are so many teens before the
court for various offences?
Our families are failing and no one is realising this. This
where the buck stops. Parents need to play a more active
role in their children's lives, especially through the trying
times of adolescence when they are more exposed to spoils
of life and peer pressure. It is not just what morals and val-
ues we teach our kids but the example we set as adults
that would either affect them positively or negatively.
We should all be concerned as no parent would be proud
to say they raised a criminal or, in the case of whoever killed
little Keyana, a monster.
Every parent in this nation is paralysed at the thought of
their child falling victim and that's justified, but we need to
take step back and take a good look at our kids. Am I raising
him/her right? Am I teaching him/her about self-respect
and respect for others? Do I know what's going on in my
This is where it should start. Before we throw the hot po-
tato in the other's hands, take responsibility first.
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GILL NETS CAUSING RAPID DECLINE
IN LEATHERBACK POPULATION
Setting better examples
key in raising our children
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