EXETER, England, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Legal harvests of marine turtles exceed 42,000 a year but illegal fishing and bycatch are much bigger threats to the endangered animals, British scientists say.
Forty-two countries or territories around the world permit the taking of marine turtles, researchers at the University of Exeter said they found in their study, the first to comprehensively review the number of turtles currently taken within the law and assess how this compares to other global threats to the creatures.
"Despite increased national and international protection of marine turtles, direct legal take remains a major source of mortality," doctoral student Frances Humber, who led the study, said. "However, it is likely that a fraction of current marine turtle mortality take is legal, with greater threats from illegal fisheries and bycatch."
The direct take of turtles in many regions and countries is often for traditional coastal communities to support themselves or small-scale fisheries supplying local markets with meat and sometimes shell, the researchers said.
Legal fisheries are concentrated in the Caribbean region and the Indo-Pacific region, the researchers found.
"We were surprised to find that there are 42 countries with no legislation in place that prohibits the harvest of marine turtles, although for many of these countries these harvests provide important sources of protein or income," Annette Broderick of the university's Center for Ecology and Conservation said. "It is, however, important to ensure that these fisheries are operating at a sustainable level."
All seven marine turtle species are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.