Incidental Capture Of Sea Turtles By Shrimp Trawlermen In Georgia

In 1976, a survey was conducted to ascertain the incidental capture of sea turtles by shrimp trawlers in Georgia waters. Interviewed were captains and strikers representing 101 commercial trawlers (average length 17.4 m) which principally offload their catch at commercial docks on the Georgia coast. During that period, 1,388 vessels were registered to shrimp in Georgia, including a 321 vessel commercial fleet with Georgia registration and vessel length greater than 9.14 m. Commercial shrimpers trawled an average of 22 days per month during a 6.7 month shrimp season; they averaged 4.5 drags per day and 2.1 hours per drag. Commercial shrimpers estimated that 30.7 turtles are incidentally captured per vessel per year (I turtle per 16 drags during a 5-month season when turtles are numerous in Georgia estuarine waters). The minimal mortality rate was 7.9% of captured turtles. It is estimated that a minimum of 778 turtles were drowned in 1976. Carapace length measurements of turtles found dead on beaches revealed a bimodal size distribution ofturtles captured by trawlers, with juveniles (88% of total turtles) measuring 50-88 cm and adults (12%) measuring 88-107 cm, with some overlap. Most turtles were captured where shrimpers preferentially drag, particularly the sounds, channels leading into the sounds, and flats on either side of the channels. Damage by captured turtles to gear or to shrimp and other commercially important species captured with the turtles does not seem to be a significant factor for Georgia shrimp fishermen.

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