Europe and Central Asia
11 Jun 2018

Turtles at mercy in European waters

Entanglement in fisheries is killing hundreds of thousands of marine turtles around the globe each year.

Photo: Guy Marcovaldi
By Aimee Leslie, Global Cetacean and Marine Turtle Bycatch Leader, WWF

<<This article is part of #OceanAlert, a campaign aiming to protect marine life, prevent marine bycatch and promote sustainable fishing>>

Huge amounts of turtles are dying in our fishing nets every year. Over the last months, the European Union has discussed the new regulation to conserve the marine environment through fisheries technical measures. This would provide a golden opportunity to improve on current efforts to monitor and reduce the incidental catches of protected species, such as marine turtles. Despite this, it has been decided to not introduce any measure to reduce it.

Incidental catches of marine turtles, especially in the Mediterranean Sea, has been a long-standing conservation concern which is yet to be prioritized and properly addressed. Marine turtle bycatch caused by the European fleet in trawl fisheries alone is impacting 16,500 turtles in the Mediterranean every year.

EU countries

Annual numbers of turtle bycatch in trawl nets

















Trawl nets aren’t the only fishery impacting turtles in the Mediterranean. Other fisheries include demersal long lines, pelagic long lines, and set nets. In fact, it is estimated that the total annual bycatch of marine turtles in the Mediterranean rises up to 132,000 individuals, resulting in a potential annual mortality of 44,000 individuals. Protected species such as the Mediterranean loggerhead and green turtles are among the most impacted. Yet, efforts to-date have been insufficient and underreported in most EU fisheries, while mitigation action has been limited to non-existent.

The bycatch of marine turtles must be properly addressed through the design and implementation of strong mitigation measures at scale. Actions can range from gear adaptations - such as the new turtle excluder device (TED) designs and configurations for bottom trawlers– to fisheries practice or management measures.

All these measures can only be addressed in the Technical Measures Regulation currently under negotiation. The EU institutions however show their complete lack of commitment to implement the international agreements of which they are a signatory part, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Even worse, with the lack of measures to eliminate the incidental catches of protected turtles, the EU is refusing to comply with its own environmental legislation, the Habitats Directive.

Three years after the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals, where countries around the globe committed to the target of reducing “biodiversity loss and achieve a substantial reduction in the rate of loss by 2010”, it is unacceptable that rather than learning from our mistakes and improving our efforts to-date, we sit back and continue to watch our marine biodiversity decline by the thousands every year. We call on the EU to commit to specific timelines to take action, fulfill its international commitments, and pledge to reduce and eventually eliminate marine turtle bycatch once and for all.

WWF, together with other environmental NGOs such as BirdLife, are committed to the reduction of marine wildlife bycatch. Entanglement in fisheries is killing hundreds of thousands of marine turtles around the globe each year. In Europe, we are working with fishers, retailers, consumers, and member states, to promote and implement bycatch reduction measures in fisheries of concern. Through responsible seafood consumption, and political will, we can achieve sustainable fisheries and secure the survival of marine wildlife for generations to come.


  • Bourjea, J., Clermont, S., Delgado, A., Murua, H., Ruiz, J., Ciccione, S., & Chavance, P. (2014). Marine turtle interaction with purse-seine fishery in the Atlantic and Indian oceans: Lessons for management. Biological Conservation, 178, 74-87.
  • Casale, P. (2011). Sea turtle by‐catch in the Mediterranean. Fish and Fisheries, 12(3), 299-316.
  • Davies, R. (2016). Wild-caught tropical shrimp imports into the EU and associated impacts on marine turtle populations: the need for EU import restrictions. CRPMEM Guyane. 94 pages.


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.