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Recovery Strategy for the Leatherback Turtle

8.0 Socio-economic considerations

Under SARA, one or more action plans must be prepared to implement the recovery strategy.  The action plan(s) must include an evaluation of the socio-economic costs of the action plan and the benefits derived from its implementation [Section 49(1)(e)].  Because it is not currently possible to identify the preferred suite of leatherback turtle recovery tools, it is only possible to make general statements about the costs and benefits of leatherback turtle conservation and recovery at this time.

The costs of conservation tend to be ‘upfront’ costs and are often concentrated geographically or by industry sector.  The benefits of conservation, on the other hand, tend to be diffuse across society and may not be realized until some time in the future.

For the public sector, the costs associated with conservation and recovery may include the costs of gathering information (including scientific investigation), consultations, negotiations, monitoring and enforcement.  Care must be taken to properly account for the net costs and benefits of various sectors – one person’s ‘cost’ may be another person’s ‘benefit’.  A second important consideration is that monitoring and enforcement can rapidly become prohibitively expensive when resource users do not ‘buy in’ to action plans.  This highlights the potential importance of public sector investments in conservation awareness programmes, consultation, and trust-building activities as part of broad conservation and recovery programmes.

The benefits of leatherback turtle conservation and recovery accruing to Canadian society could include: Non-consumptive direct use value (e.g., wildlife viewing tours); Indirect use value (e.g., contributions by the animal to the regulation of ecosystem services);  Information value (e.g., the value of documenting key life history parameters that could be used for population modeling and better management in the future); Value to future generations; and Existence value (i.e., the value of leatherback turtles to Canadians who will never ‘use’ them in any way).

9.0 Potential allowable harm / Permitted activities

Subsection 83(4) of SARA enables recovery strategies, action plans and management plans to exempt persons engaging in certain activities from the general prohibitions under SARA.  In order for this provision to apply, individuals must also be authorized under another Act of Parliament to be carrying out such activities.

In the case of fishing activities that are known to incidentally capture leatherback turtles in Atlantic Canadian waters, DFO hosted a Regional Advisory Process (RAP) review in May 2004 to review the estimates of mortality that would not jeopardize survival or recovery of leatherback turtles.  Participants included DFO scientists and fisheries managers, scientists from academia and the US National Marine Fisheries Service and representatives from the fishing and environmental communities.  As a result of these consultations, a formal document entitled “Allowable Harm Assessment for Leatherback Turtle” was prepared.  This document, along with the Proceedings of the consultation is available on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website, under the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) at: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas/csas/Publications/Pub_Index_e.htm

Estimates discussed in the report indicate that the size of the Atlantic leatherback turtle population likely exceeds several hundred thousand individuals.  As above under section ‘2.6.2 Population in Atlantic Canada’, there is no estimate of what fraction of the population may migrate into Canadian waters.

Estimates of incidental capture of leatherback turtles in the entire Atlantic Ocean range from 30,000 to 60,000 for one gear sector (offshore pelagic longline fleets) in 2000 (Lewison. et al., 2004).  Although these estimates should be considered tentative, because of the assumptions underlying the calculations, they support the conclusion that tens of thousands of leatherbacks are incidentally captured each year in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Canadian contribution to incidental captures is largely unknown, but available data from the Canadian offshore pelagic longline fleet indicates about 170 incidental captures per year.  As outlined above under ‘2.8.1 Threats in the Marine Environment’, quantitative data on incidental capture exists only for this fleet and on-board observers reported no mortalities in this fishery during the 2001-2003 fishery.  However, based on estimated encounter rates from DFO observer data and post-encounter mortality estimates drawn from studies in the US, a small number of leatherback turtle mortalities may have occurred each year in the Canadian fishery.

Given that the population likely exceeds several hundred thousand animals, and may be larger, that the geographic extent of the population has not changed (suggesting that suitable habitat is available to permit population growth), and model results suggest that the population can sustain human-induced mortality up to about 1%, the RAP review concluded that there was scope for human-induced mortality without jeopardizing survival or recovery of this species.

The recovery strategy adopts this conclusion and therefore invokes subsection 83(4) for commercial fishing activities in Atlantic Canada that are known to incidentally capture leatherback turtles and those authorized to carry out these activities under the federal Fisheries Act.  A scientific review of theestimates of leatherback turtle mortality in Atlantic Canadian waters will be undertaken every 5 years to ensure that the survival or recovery of the species is not jeopardized.

To minimize the impact of encounters with commercial fishing operations in Canada, fishers should take every reasonable effort to ensure that entangled leatherback turtles be released in the least harmful manner.  As well, mandatory reporting of encounters with leatherback turtles is required to document the impact of these fisheries on the Atlantic leatherback turtle population.  This information will also enable the Department to assess the effectiveness of recovery efforts and work cooperatively with the fishing industry to find further solutions to assist leatherback turtle recovery.