Marine Biology

, Volume 125, Issue 4, pp 813–825 | Cite as

Incidental capture, direct mortality and delayed mortality of sea turtles in Australia's Northern Prawn Fishery

  • I. R. Poiner
  • A. N. M. Harris


The species composition, catch and mortality rates of sea turtles captured incidentally by the tiger prawn fishery on Australia's northern coast in 1989 and 1990 were estimated by monitoring the fishery's catch. In 1990, the delayed rate of mortality from damage was estimated and the size composition was measured. Five species of turtles were captured: the flatback (Natator depressa, 59% of the total), loggerhead (Caretta caretta, 10%), olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea, 12%), green turtle (Chelonia mydas, 8%) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata, 5%). The turtle catches varied with water depth: the highest catch rates (0.068±0.006 turtles per trawl) were from trawls in water between 20 and 30 m deep, relatively few turtles (10%) were captured in water deeper than 40 m (25% of trawls). Catch rates varied with time of year: the highest catch rates were 0.098 (±0.013) turtles per trawl in winter. There was no significant difference in the overall catch rate (χ2= 0.047; p=0.8111; df=1) but a significant difference in mortality rate (χ2= 3.99; p<0.05; df=1) between the two years. The incidence of capture in the commercial fishery was 0.051 (±0.003) turtles per trawl towed for about 180 min, with 0.007 (±0.001) turtles per trawl drowning in the nets. There were no significant differences in the catch and mortality rates between the two years for any of the turtle species except the loggerhead, which had a significantly (χ2 = 11.029; p=0.0013; df=1) lower catch rate in 1990 (0.002±0.001 turtles per trawl) than in 1989 (0.008±0.002 turtles per trawl), and a significantly higher mortality in 1990 (33%) than in 1989 (19%). Catch rates and mortality varied between the species: the flatback had the highest catch rate (0.030±0.002 turtles per trawl) but the lowest mortality (10.9%); the loggerhead had a catch rate of 0.005±0.001 turtles per trawl, and high mortality (21.9%); the olive ridley had a catch rate of 0.006±0.001 turtles per trawl and a low mortality (12.5%); the green turtle's catch rate was 0.004±0.001 per trawl and mortality 12.0%; the hawksbill had the lowest catch rate (0.002±0.001 turtles per trawl) but highest mortality (26.4%). Based on the fishing effort (27 049 d for 1989 and 25 746 d for 1990), we estimate that 5 503 (±424) turtles were caught and returned to the sea in 1989 and 5 238 (±404) in 1990, of which 567±140 drowned in 1989 and 943±187 in 1990. In 1990, an estimated 25% of all captured turtles suffered some non-lethal damage; an estimated 21% of turltes were captured comatose and 4% were injured. We conclude that, considering other threats, trawl-induced drowning is not the major impact on turtle populations in northern Australia, but that measures to reduce drowning and delayed mortality would be desirable.


Fishing Fishing Effort Northern Coast Green Turtle Commercial Fishery 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. R. Poiner
    • 1
  • A. N. M. Harris
    • 1
  1. 1.CSIRO Division of FisheriesMarine LaboratoriesClevelandAustralia

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