DURHAM, N.C., Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Accidental sea turtle deaths during fishing operations in U.S. coastal waters have declined by an estimated 90 percent since 1990, researchers say.
Scientists at Duke University say the dramatic decrease is due to measures incorporated in the last 20 years by many U.S. fisheries to reduce bycatch, defined as animals caught unintentionally while intending to catch other fish.
An overall decline in U.S. fishing activity also added to the decrease in turtle deaths, a Duke release said Wednesday.
An estimated 4,600 sea turtles die each year in U.S. coastal waters, compared with about 70,000 killed annually before bycatch measures were put in place, the study said.
The study used data collected from 1990 to 2007 by the National Marine Fisheries Service from more than 20 fisheries operating in Atlantic waters from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border, and in the Pacific Ocean along the West coast and around Hawaii.
"The reduction of bycatch and mortality shows important progress by NMFS, which serves as a model for reducing sea turtle bycatch in other parts of the world," lead study author Elena Finkbeiner said. "Our findings show that there are effective tools available for policymakers and fishing industries to reduce sea turtle bycatch, as long as they are implemented properly and consistently."
All six marine turtle species that occur in U.S. waters -- loggerheads, leatherbacks, hawksbills, olive ridleys, Kemp's ridleys and green sea turtles -- are categorized as threatened or endangered on the U.S. Endangered Species List.