Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 915–931 | Cite as

Driftnet fishery threats sea turtles in the Atlantic Ocean

  • Fernando N. FiedlerEmail author
  • Gilberto Sales
  • Bruno B. Giffoni
  • Emygdio L. A. Monteiro-Filho
  • Eduardo R. Secchi
  • Leandro Bugoni
Original Paper


Fisheries are recognised as a major threat to sea turtles worldwide. Oceanic driftnets are considered the main cause of the steep decline in Pacific Ocean populations of the leatherback sea turtle Dermochelys coriacea. The world’s largest leatherback population nests in West Africa and migrates across the Atlantic Ocean to feed off the South American coast. There, the turtles encounter a range of fisheries, including the Brazilian driftnet fishery targeting hammerhead sharks. From 2002 to 2008, 351 sea turtles were incidentally caught in 41 fishing trips and 371 sets. Leatherbacks accounted for 77.3% of the take (n = 252 turtles, capture rate = 0.1405 turtles/km of net), followed by loggerheads Caretta caretta (47 individuals, capture rate = 0.0262 turtles/km of net), green turtles Chelonia mydas (27 individuals, capture rate = 0.0151 turtles/km of net) and unidentified hard-shelled turtles (25 individual, capture rate = 0.0139 turtles/km of net) that fell off the net during hauling. Immediate mortality (i.e., turtles that were dead upon reaching the vessel, excluding post-release mortality) was similar among the species and accounted for 22.2 to 29.4% of turtles hauled onboard. The annual catch by this fishery ranged from 1,212 to 6,160 leatherback turtles, as estimated based on bootstrap procedures under different fishing effort scenarios in the 1990s. The present inertia in law and enforcement regarding gillnet regulations in Brazil could result in the reestablishment of the driftnet fishery, driving rates of leatherback mortality to levels similar to those observed in previous decades. This development could potentially lead to the collapse of the South Atlantic leatherback population, mirroring the decline of the species in the Pacific. In light of these potential impacts and similar threats to other pelagic mega fauna, we recommend banning this type of fishery in the region.


Dermochelys coriacea Caretta caretta Chelonia mydas Incidental capture Sea turtle conservation Gillnet fisheries Bycatch 



Projeto TAMAR, a conservation programme of the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, is affiliated with ICMBio (the Brazilian Institute for Biodiversity Conservation—Instituto Chico Mendes), is co-managed by Fundacão Pró-Tamar and is officially sponsored by Petrobras. Thanks are due to Centro de Estudos do Mar (CEM/UFPR) for support during the M.Sc. study of F.N.F, Mariana Britto for preparing map, fishermen for volunteering in sharing information and collecting data at sea. The “Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico—CNPq” (Brazil) provided scholarships to E.R. Secchi (PQ 305219/2008-1). Members of the Research Group “Ecologia e Conservação da Megafauna Marinha—EcoMega/CNPq”, have contributed to this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fernando N. Fiedler
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Gilberto Sales
    • 3
  • Bruno B. Giffoni
    • 4
  • Emygdio L. A. Monteiro-Filho
    • 5
    • 6
  • Eduardo R. Secchi
    • 7
  • Leandro Bugoni
    • 8
  1. 1.Fundação Pró-TAMARItajaíBrazil
  2. 2.Centro de Estudos do Mar (CEM), Pós Graduação em Sistemas Costeiros e Oceânicos (PGSISCO)Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR)Pontal do ParanáBrazil
  3. 3.Centro Nacional de Proteção e Pesquisa das Tartarugas Marinhas (Projeto TAMAR)Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBIO)CamaçariBrazil
  4. 4.Fundação Pró-TAMARUbatubaBrazil
  5. 5.Departamento de ZoologiaUniversidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR), Centro PolitécnicoCuritibaBrazil
  6. 6.Instituto de Pesquisas Cananéia (IPeC)CananéiaBrazil
  7. 7.Instituto de Oceanografia, Laboratório de Tartarugas e Mamíferos MarinhosUniversidade Federal do Rio Grande (FURG)Rio GrandeBrazil
  8. 8.Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Laboratório de Aves AquáticasUniversidade Federal do Rio Grande (FURG)Rio GrandeBrazil

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