India: Olive Ridley turtles fall prey to trawlers

Sib Kumar Das The Hindu 3 Dec 11;

In an alarming development, carcasses of Olive Ridley turtles have started appearing in large numbers close to the coastline of the Rushikulya rookery in Ganjam district of Odisha.

Fishermen from the Gokharkuda and Nulia Nuagoan villages attributed the phenomenon to unchecked activity of fishing trawlers in the area.

On Friday morning, around 100 carcasses of the endangered species were found on the beach near Gokharkuda and Nulia Nuagaon.

The Rushikulya rookery coast is one of the major nesting sites for the Olive Ridley turtles. And with their mating season about to start, they have started reaching the shore there, according to Rabindranath Sahu of the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee (RSTPC), an organisation of local villagers involved in conservation of turtles. This year, the Olive Ridley turtles had arrived slightly ahead of schedule.

According to Mr. Sahu, the turtles were falling prey to fishing trawlers that were coming too close to the coastline.

As the trawlers were allegedly not using the Turtle Excluder Device (TED), their gill nets throttled the turtles to death, according to Mangaraj Panda, a social activist working with the fishermen community.

Last week, four traditional fishermen were injured in an altercation that broke out over some trawlers found fishing too close to the coast. These trawlers had destroyed the nets of the fishermen. Trawlers had to keep a distance of 10 km from the coastline, but they were fishing as close as 1 km, according to Mr. Panda.

Despite the restrictions in place since November 1 and owing to lack of patrolling in the region, trawlers from Andhra Pradesh and other areas of Odisha were indulging in fishing, killing turtles, say fishermen.

Mr. Panda and Mr. Sahu said they had never seen such a large number of carcasses of Olive Ridleys on the rookery coast.

The activists demanded strict action against the erring trawlers, and sought intensified patrolling near the rookery coast to check the entry of trawlers there.