Leatherback Turtle Model Tests New Disentangling Tool

In a best-case scenario, any conservation efforts to decrease entanglements and unwanted catch will also benefit harvesters. It will ideally make fishing easier, safer and increase landed value.

Leatherback turtles become entangled in the haul up lines of fixed gear. Unfortunately these animals cannot reverse out of an entanglement situation. Leatherback turtles often get entangled around the head and front flippers.

Many Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters are already doing what is best: getting rope out of the upper 3-4 fathoms and untangling turtles. Many harvesters use leaded line to pull excess rope off the surface and to keep it from getting tangled in others’ boats and gear.

We wanted to understand how turtles become entangled and to test different types of tools for getting excess rope out of the upper water column and for untangling turtles. To do so, we needed to see an entanglement and manipulate the turtle and gear – something that is not possible with an endangered species. Instead we had a life-size model turtle built with moveable front flippers.

On March 6, 2017, a workshop was held at the flume tank at the Marine Institute to test different tools and fishing gear with the turtle model. We now have the ability to test different solutions to the vertical line entanglement problem (weighted buoy ropes, line cutting tools, and the turtle model)

It was an excellent initial look at the fishing gear, disentangling tools, and the turtle.

The workshop was part of a collaborative program with DFO Oceans to look at potential conservation benefits, in ways that also benefit Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters.

The key objective of the collaborative program was to test dehooking and line cutting tools for future use by harvesters.  As a result of the collaborative program with DFO, we now have found/selected the most efficient line cutting gear and have a model to tests various additional mitigation tools.

This program is led by FFAW fisheries scientist, Dr. Erin Carruthers in collaboration with Jennifer Janes of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, with contributions from Classic Machine Shop, the Canadian Museum of Nature, Wayne Ledwell of Tangly Whales, and Memorial University flume tank staff and scientific divers. Many thanks to harvesters Paul Kane, Kevin Hardy, Jim Chidley and all the other harvesters who contributed to this program.

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