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Mexican, Japanese and U.S. Fishermen Celebrate Sea Turtle's Epic Journey

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HONOLULU, Hawaii -- A group of 20 fishermen, researchers and resource managers from Mexico, Japan and the United States gathered in November to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Adelita's track from Baja California Sur to Japan-the first loggerhead sea turtle to provide physical proof of their trans-Pacific migration via satellite telemetry. The objective of the trip was to share experiences, raise awareness and work towards reducing bycatch of loggerhead sea turtles during a two-week expedition throughout the Japan Archipelago.

North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles nest exclusively on beaches in Japan and then undertake developmental migrations that can last decades and span the entire North Pacific, passing Hawaii to the rich waters of Mexico. Listed as an endangered species by the World Conservation Union, loggerheads have declined dramatically to the point where there are no more than a few thousand females nesting in the North Pacific per year.

A great deal has progressed since Adelita undertook her historic migration in 1996-in understanding the far-ranging ecosystem of this highly migratory species and the of impacts that threaten their survival-yet there is still much to accomplish.

Coastal fisheries bycatch in Mexican and Japanese waters plus international longline fisheries in the Central North Pacific have been identified as some of the leading sources of loggerhead sea turtle mortality. The Hawaii-based longline fishery has reduced its loggerhead interaction rates to negligible levels while maintaining profitability, and thus serves as an international model for the transfer of best-practice technologies and mitigation strategies.

"Fishermen must take the initiative to solve sea turtle bycatch in their fisheries, before the government or someone steps in to do it for them-an alternative that no fishermen wants," advised Leland Oldenburg, a member of the Hawaii Longline Association.

During the trip, the participants-experts in developing solutions to reduce unintentional capture of sea turtles during fishing operations-strengthened strategic alliances, built new partnerships in the plight to save the loggerhead turtle and achieved the following goals:

Understanding some of the many challenges faced by foraging and nesting turtles in Japan

Sharing the problem of loggerhead sea turtle mortality in Baja California Sur with Japanese fishers, scientists and government representatives

Celebrating the success of the bycatch reduction efforts of the Hawaii-based longline fleet

Sharing the success of a loggerhead turtle refuge in Baja California Sur, a community-based conservation initiative which has empowered Mexican fishermen to reduce turtle bycatch while maintaining livelihoods

Comprehending the importance of bycatch in Baja California Sur relative to other locations and the impact of this phenomenon on the loggerhead turtle population

Brainstorming the problem and proposing possible solutions with Japanese and Hawaiian colleagues and

Generating follow-up strategies among the various partners who shared their experiences in Japan.

The group also delivered presentations at the Sea Turtle Association of Japan's 17th Annual Sea Turtle Conference in Kumano in Mie Prefecture and partnered with local fishermen in Muroto, Shikoku Prefecture to learn Japanese fishing techniques and challenges. They were treated to traditional Japanese cultural events at the Moto Elementary School and led an environmental education workshop to encourage communication between schoolchildren in the United States, Mexico and Japan. The team also visited the Hiwasa Museum, founded by Professor K. Kondoh, one of the first sea turtle conservationists in the world, and paid an all important visit to the Japanese loggerhead nesting beaches.

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