By Lewis Smith
Prawn imports to the UK and the rest of the EU are responsible for killing up to 29,000 marine turtles every year, according to a WWF report.
The UK was named and shamed in the report for importing more tropical prawns caught by trawling - linked to high bycatches of turtles - than any other EU nation.
“The EU country with the greatest apparent impact is the United Kingdom, whose acceptance of imports from Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Thailand and Viet Nam could potentially be implicated in a cumulative bycatch of 44,696 marine turtles over the 2009 to 2014 period,” the report stated.
With Madagascar’s exports included, the wild-caught prawns sent to the European Union are responsible for the deaths of 29,000 turtles annually, including the critically endangered hawksbill.
Tropical prawns are on restaurant menus across the UK and just under half, WWF estimates, are caught in the wild. The remainder are farmed.
Of the wild-caught tropical prawns imported to the UK, according to the WWF and the French Guiana Fisheries Committee joint report, the vast majority come from the waters of Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Madagascar, Thailand and India.
The report highlights commercial fishing as posing “one of the greatest dangers” to marine turtles, particularly from boats using longlines, gill nets or trawl nets.
Dr Lyndsey Dodds, WWF’s head of policy, said: “People in the UK will be shocked to hear that eating one of their favourite types of seafood might be contributing to the needless deaths of threatened turtles.
“The UK is importing a huge volume of tropical prawns into the country and the fisheries in countries such as India, Thailand and Madagascar who export to the UK market have had little incentive to move away from poor practice.”
The authors of the report called for the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) to be fitted by all fishermen who export tropical prawns to the UK.
TEDs are small panels in the trawl nets that allow turtles to escape and swim away unhurt. It has been shown that TEDs reduce the number of turtle deaths in trawls by 97 per cent.
Dr Dodds added: “TEDs are a win-win solution, they save the lives of thousands of turtles and are a more effective method for the fisheries.
“As the country looks to exit the EU, we need the UK government to step up and introduce a requirement on tropical prawn fisheries importing into the UK to use Turtle Exclusion Devices and support them in making this transition. This will then help drive change in tropical prawn fisheries and dramatically reduce the capture of marine turtles.”
In the report, Wild-Caught Tropical Shrimp Imports into the EU & Associated Impacts on Marine Turtle Populations: The Need for EU Import Restrictions, the authors hailed the example of the US in making TEDs compulsory for those exporting wild-caught prawn.
By contrast, the EU makes no such demands and is happy to import thousands of tonnes of wild-caught tropical prawns every year from Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Madagascar, Thailand and India, none of which have permits to send prawns to the US.
Between them, the six countries exported more than 333,000 tonnes of wild-caught prawn to the EU from 2009 to 2014, of which 289,000 was from trawling.
The UK imported 74,000 tonnes of trawl-caught tropical prawns from the six countries from 2009 to 2014.
Photograph: a hawkbill turtle. Credit: Nils Aukan/WWF