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Programmatic Environmental Assessment - page 33 / 49





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PIFSC Sea Turtle Longline Research EA June 1, 2009

3.2 Current and Expanded Programs: PIFSC research on reducing bycatch in domestic and international longline fisheries (Current Program Alternative and Proposed Action)

The proposed action is intended to further investigate ways to reduce the bycatch of sea turtles in pelagic longline fisheries in domestic and foreign fleets and continue to introduce effective modifications into fleets worldwide, including domestic fleets, as opportunities arise.

As the proposed action expands current research and technology transfer programs, and the impacts to appear to be similar between the two alternatives, the following impact analyses apply to both the Current Program alternative and the Proposed Action (expansion of current programs).

3.2.1 Potential Impacts to Sea Turtles

The proposed current and expanded program methods range from non-invasive behavioral, oceanographic, and gear modification studies to collecting biological data from sea turtle individuals. Impacts on sea turtles for various proposed techniques are listed in order of increasing level of human-turtle interaction. Standard operating procedures are specifically designed to minimize the impacts of these research techniques on turtles and the marine environment. It is anticipated that zero turtle mortalities would occur as a direct result of implementation of the current program alternative or proposed action. Because the proposed research is a global effort, potential impacts are evaluated by sea turtle populations as a whole rather than species-specific.

Potential impacts of research-related longline fishing gear modifications on sea turtle populations

As previously outlined in Section 1.2.3., the implementation of modified fishing gear, including large diameter circle hooks with fish bait, has already been shown to substantially reduce sea turtle bycatch and mortality of bycaught turtles, with general trends were also noted in studies conducted in Italy, Brazil, Uruguay, and Indonesia (Boggs and Swimmer 2007, Read 2007, Gilman et al. 2007). In general, proposed modifications to longline fishing gear are likely to reduce interactions with sea turtles, and as such, no direct negative impacts to sea turtle populations are expected to result from fishing gear modifications.

Potential impacts of handling live adult sea turtle individuals

Handling live sea turtles that have been stranded, captured incidental to longline fisheries, or held in captivity is one component to the proposed research methods. Uninjured sea turtles that are lightly entangled in fishing gear will be disentangled and released on site. Injured turtles that are captured by trained staff and collaborators may be transported to a facility for diagnosis and treatment by a licensed veterinarian. Whenever possible, turtles are rehabilitated and ultimately released back into their natural environment.

As with any marine research and monitoring program, there is a possibility that captured turtles could experience adverse impacts from capture, ranging from near drowning to drowning by


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