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WWF - UK’s appetite for tropical prawns is causing the deaths of thousands of threatened marine turtles every year

A new report launched by WWF on World Sea Turtle Day (16 June) revealed that the UK’s appetite for prawns could be responsible for the death of thousands of threatened marine turtles each year.

The report, which was 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 U.S. - who ban 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 Excluder 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.”

Notes to the Editor

1. The report, Wild-caught tropical shrimp imports into the EU & associated impacts on marine turtle populations: the need for EU import restrictions, has been produced by the French Guiana Fisheries Committee – CRPMEM - with the support of WWF and is available here. A WWF factsheet summarizing the report can be found here.

2. Countries that export to the EU, but are not allowed to export to the US because they do not implement TEDs in their tropical shrimp trawl fisheries, are: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Although the list could be longer, since there is a large category of unidentified countries in the list of those that export tropical wild-caught shrimp to the EU. Additionally the main importing countries - United Kingdom, Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, and Denmark - are also highlighted in the report.

3. Prawns (sometimes referred to as ‘shrimp’) are a crustacean that feature alongside tuna, whitefish and salmon as one of the top five species consumed in the UK.

4. Marine turtles have been around for over 100 million years, since the age of the dinosaurs. Of the seven species still swimming in the ocean, six are threatened by extinction. Turtles have many natural threats including human induced habitat destruction, climate change, slaughter and the fishing industry. Marine turtles play a key role in marine ecosystems by, among other things, maintaining the health of sea grasses and coral reefs.

5. WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive. Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk.

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