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CIFT device to save sea turtles from shrimp nets

Amit Mitra

VISAKHAPATNAM, Dec. 11

THE Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) has unveiled an indigenous Turtle Excluder Device (TED) for the shrimp trawling industry to undertake fishing operations without the problem of turtles getting enmeshed in the nets.

Apart from providing a palliative to the environmental concern regarding incidental turtle deaths during fishing operations, the TED can boost the country's seafood export as the US and other shrimp importing nations have made it mandatory to shrimp exporters to regulate incidental capture of sea turtles.

In the long run, with eco-labelling becoming an emerging trend in the US and Japanese shrimp markets, the CIFT device can significantly help the domestic shrimp industry to meet the stringent ecological norms that are likely to be imposed during the next 5-10 years.

The Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) and the Wildlife Institute of India have jointly launched an exercise for networking and coordinating TED manufacture and promotion along the Indian coast where maximum sea turtle deaths occur.

Says Dr B.C. Choudhury, Nodal Officer of Govt. of India-UNDP Sea Turtle Project: ``On being successfully experimented, the indigenous model of TED has been found to be suitable for adoption by the fishing fleet.''

Studies have shown that incidental death of turtles during trawling operations along the Indian coast has been in the neighbourhood of 75,000 during the last 12 years, with the annual mortality rate reaching an average of 15,000-20,000 during the recent years. While the trend is hardly observed off the West Coast, turtle deaths are mostly recorded off the coasts of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu on the East Coast.

Although the process of adoption of TED by the Indian trawler and mechanised boat operations has just begun, there is no immediate threat to the Rs 6,000-crore seafood export industry, as bulk of the shipments flowed from aquaculture and traditional fishing sectors. ``However, as about Rs 2,500 crore out of the total seafood exports come from the sea including fin fish and other species. So, the industry should take to adoption of the TED technology seriously,'' Mr T. Raghunath Reddy, President of the Association of Indian Fishery Industry (AIFI), has said.

One of the factors that the deep sea fishing industry has been rather cold to the idea of fitting a TED to the trawling gear was the fear that the device, apart from warding off turtles, also watered down the shrimp catches.

But the fears are unfounded, as the CIFT tests have established. ``The tests have shown that loss of shrimp catches due to use of TED ranged only from 1.2-7.9 per cent, depending on the density of the shrimp grounds. Further, the device, besides helping in eliminating the incidental catches of turtles and thereby allowing more shrimps to fall into the net, also enhanced the value of catches through by-catch reduction,'' says Dr Choudhury.

Priced around Rs 1,260, the TED, which was seen to have a success rate of about 96 per cent, is a frame with a grid of steel bars fixed at the cod end of the trawl net at an angle leading to an escape slit. Small species as shrimp slip through bars, while larger ones like turtle are stopped by the grid bars and allowed to escape through the opening.

It has been estimated that out of the 47,000 mechanised boats, including trawlers, operated off the Indian coast, 23,000 required to be equipped with TED.

MPEDA had so far distributed nearly 1,000 TEDs and various coastal States/union territories, identified by the experts scientific panel of the Centre as regions requiring installation of TED, had already made this device mandatory in fishing nets by mechanised vessels.

While MPEDA has taken up the initiative for commercial production and distribution of TED, WII has funded a TED demonstration centre at the State Institute of Fisheries Technology (SIFT) at Kakinada.

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