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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Sept. 20) — The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, with support of the U.S. government, has launched a project to collect information about the types and amounts of sea turtles that are caught as "by-catch" by commercial fishing boats in the central Pacific region.

The program is also aiming to increase the survival rate of sea turtles that are caught during commercial fishing operations by training Marshall Islands onboard fisheries observers in techniques to safely release them.

Funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Region office in Honolulu, the project is providing the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority with training and materials to:

• Expand the activities of the fisheries department’s observer program by improving the capabilities of local staff and observers in recognizing, handling and reporting "interactions" between sea turtles and commercial tuna fishing boats.

• Assist commercial fishing companies in the Marshall Islands with techniques for handling sea turtles to reduce the mortality rate.

• Integrate the issue of sea turtle "interactions" with tuna fishing operations into the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority’s ongoing management program.

The Marine Resources Authority already has an active program of observers who are placed on both longline and purse seine fishing vessels to monitor and record tuna catch data. This observer program is being expanded to both collect information on sea turtles and reduce the mortality levels of turtles caught as the ‘by-catch’ of tuna fishing, said Mike McCoy, a turtle researcher who just completed a one-week training of the Marine Resources Authority’s nine fisheries observers.

The onboard fisheries observers have been provided information and trained in techniques to release turtles caught in longline or purse seiner operations. The observers are also being provided with equipment designed to cut loose turtles caught with hooks or in nets.

September 20, 2004

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