The report, which is produced by the French Guiana Fisheries Committee, estimates that up to 29,000 marine turtles are killed annually in tropical prawn trawls that export to the European Union, with the UK the EU’s largest individual market.
Based on EU figures (on per capita consumption of tropical shrimp), the report estimates that just under half (46 per cent) of prawns imported into the UK are wild-caught, most of which (86 per cent) are being fished by trawlers in tropical waters off the coast of countries including Bangladesh, India and Vietnam. But in addition to catching prawns, large numbers of turtles, including species such as green, loggerhead and critically endangered hawksbill, can become entangled in nets and drown.
The accidental capture of turtles is drastically reduced by the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which are simple escape panels added into the body of the fishing nets that allow turtles to swim free. The US, which has banned tropical prawn imports where TEDs are not used, use TEDs widely in their fisheries and countries including Costa Rica, Mexico and Nigeria have also introduced them. TEDs have been proven to reduce the capture of marine turtles by up to 97 per cent, whilst only causing a minor reduction - of around 2 per cent -in the amount of prawns caught. Studies show that the removal of turtles from the haul also prevents the prawns being crushed and can therefore increase overall profitability.
WWF is calling on the UK to require the implementation of Turtle Excluder Devices in tropical prawn trawling on all prawn imported into the UK.
Dr Lyndsey Dodds, Head of Marine Policy at WWF, says: “People in the UK will be shocked to hear that eating one of their favourite types of seafood might be contributing to the needless deaths of threatened turtles. The UK is importing a huge volume of tropical prawns into the country and the fisheries in countries such as India, Thailand and Madagascar who export to the UK market have had little incentive to move away from poor practice. TEDs are a win-win solution, they save the lives of thousands of turtles and are a more effective method for the fisheries.
“As the country looks to exit the EU, we need the UK government to step up and introduce a requirement on tropical prawn fisheries importing into the UK to use Turtle Exclusion Devices and support them in making this transition. This will then help drive change in tropical prawn fisheries and dramatically reduce the capture of marine turtles.”