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Table of Contents
Executive Summary
Report of the Sea Turtle Injury Workshop
Workshop Purpose and Overview
Presentation Summaries
Information Available for Review
Discussion of Injuries and Observer Information
Technical Guidelines

Northeast Fisheries Science Center Reference Document 11-10

Evaluating Sea Turtle Injuries in Northeast Fishing Gear

by Carrie M. Upite
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Serv., Northeast Regional Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 01930-2276

Web version posted July 20, 2011

Citation: Upite C. 2011. Evaluating Sea Turtle Injuries in Northeast Fishing Gear. US Dept Commer, Northeast Fish Sci Cent Ref Doc. 11-10; 26 p. Available from: National Marine Fisheries Service, 166 Water Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543-1026, or online at

Information Quality Act Compliance: In accordance with section 515 of Public Law 106-554, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center completed both technical and policy reviews for this report. These predissemination reviews are on file at the NEFSC Editorial Office.

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Dr. Cindy Driscoll
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Dr. Terry Norton
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
Dr. Bridget Dunnigan[1]
Vineyard Veterinary Clinic
Ms. Barbara Schroeder
NMFS Office of Protected Resources
Dr. Robert George
Gloucester Veterinary Hospital
Virginia Aquarium
Dr. Brian Stacy
University of Florida/
NMFS Office of Protected Resources
Mr. David Gouveia[2]
NMFS Northeast Regional Office
Ms. Lesley Stokes
NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center
Dr. Heather Haas[1]
NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center
Ms. Carrie Upite[1]
NMFS Northeast Regional Office
Dr. Craig Harms
North Carolina State University
Ms. Sara Wetmore[1]
NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center
Dr. Charles Innis
New England Aquarium
Dr. C. Rogers Williams[1]
National Marine Life Center/
Vineyard Veterinary Clinic
Ms. Betty Lentell[1]
NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center
Dr. Jeanette Wyneken
Florida Atlantic University
Dr. Doug Mader
Marathon Veterinary Hospital/
Marathon Sea Turtle Hospital


Fisheries incidentally capture sea turtles as bycatch, resulting in varying levels of injuries. In 2003, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Northeast Region (NER) developed working guidance to determine the severity of injuries for hard-shelled sea turtles taken in the Atlantic sea scallop dredge fishery. This working guidance was used in Section 7 consultations to help determine if a sea turtle caught (with varying types of injuries) in scallop dredge gear should be considered a lethal or non-lethal interaction. NMFS recognized the need to revisit the working guidance to attempt to encompass other NER gear types (e.g., gillnet, trawl, pound nets, pot/trap) and a wide range of sea turtle injuries, and to use a consistent approach for assessing post-release survival. A November 2009 workshop gathered various experts in sea turtle veterinary medicine, health assessment, anatomy, and/or rehabilitation to: (1) discuss case studies of sea turtles caught in fishing gear with varying levels of injuries; (2) critique the NMFS working guidance and approach for evaluating post-release survival; and (3) comment on the level of information collected by observers. Workshop participants discussed types of sea turtle injuries and associated survivability, turtle behavior, and resuscitation, as well as specific information that should be collected by observers to better assess sea turtle injuries. The information gathered by individual participants at this workshop was then used by NMFS to develop technical guidelines for assessing sea turtle injuries in Northeast fishing gear. The more significant changes to the revised guidelines are described, and the final technical working guidelines are presented. This document represents a summary of the scientific discussions that occurred at the workshop and the technical working guidelines developed by NMFS after consideration of that information. It should be noted that NMFS’ revision of the technical guidelines would not have been possible without the valuable comments and insight by the individual workshop participants.


Workshop Purpose and Overview

Goals and Objectives

The purpose of the workshop was to gather various experts in sea turtle veterinary medicine, health assessment, anatomy, and/or rehabilitation to: (1) discuss case studies of sea turtles caught in fishing gear with varying levels of injuries; (2) critique the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) working guidance and approach for evaluating post-release survival; and (3) comment on the level of information collected by observers. The desired goals of the workshop were to obtain information needed to revise the guidance on evaluating sea turtle injuries in fishing gear and to acquire input on NMFS’ approach for conducting post-release mortality determinations in the Northeast Region (NER). The goal was not to obtain consensus recommendations from workshop participants, but instead to gather information from each individual (based on their own expertise) that could be used by NMFS to evaluate and revise the guidance at a later date.

Workshop Background

All sea turtles are listed as either endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). Section 7 of the ESA requires Federal agencies to consult with NMFS to ensure their actions are not likely to jeopardize listed marine species. In the case of fisheries managed under a Federal Fishery Management Plan, NMFS must consult with itself on the impacts of the fishery on endangered and threatened species. The Sustainable Fisheries Division, Northeast Region, provides information on the action to the Protected Resources Division, which conducts the analysis.

Sea turtles are taken incidentally as bycatch in fisheries. Observers are present on a small percentage of Federally permitted fishing trips and record data on sea turtle bycatch, among other things. Sea turtles are observed alive or dead, and with varying levels of injuries.

In 2003, NMFS initiated an assessment of the magnitude of injuries from sea turtle interactions with Atlantic sea scallop dredge gear. Sea turtles caught in that fishery have been documented with varying types of injuries. Through a detailed questionnaire sent to various experts in sea turtle veterinary medicine and rehabilitation, NMFS obtained feedback on sea turtle injuries and the potential impacts of such damage on the long-term survivability of the sea turtle. The comments received were used in developing working guidance for serious injury determinations for hard-shelled sea turtles taken in the scallop dredge fishery. This working guidance was used in Section 7 consultations to help determine if a sea turtle caught (with varying types of injuries) in scallop dredge gear should be considered a lethal or non-lethal interaction. To make that determination, NMFS reviewed and evaluated observed sea turtle takes utilizing the working guidance.

While NMFS had prepared guidance specific to the scallop dredge fishery, during Section 7 consultations on other fisheries, it became apparent that injury criteria should be relevant to all other fishing gear and sea turtle injury types. As such, the working guidance was recognized as needing revision to attempt to encompass other NER gear types and a wide range of fishing gear-related sea turtle injuries. Some examples of gear types with observed sea turtle interactions and/or injuries in the Northeast Region include, but are not limited to, gillnets, trawls, dredges, pound nets, and pots/traps.

Note that this initiative was only focused on those fisheries found in the NMFS Northeast Region (Maine through Virginia[3]). The geographical scope was chosen given the similarities of the fisheries and gear types used in the NER, environmental characteristics, the information available for review (e.g., Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP) comments), and the future applicability of the workshop results to Northeast Regional Office management. However, some of this information may apply (or be applied) to other fisheries in other areas as appropriate. This initiative also excludes the longline fishery, which has a separate post-interaction mortality assessment (Ryder et al. 2006).

Workshop Overview

This two day workshop was convened by the NMFS Northeast Regional Office (NERO) and Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) and held in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 17 and 18, 2009. Participants were invited based upon their experience in sea turtle veterinary medicine, health assessment, anatomy, and/or rehabilitation; a total of 17 individuals attended the workshop.

As noted in Appendix 1, the first day included a background presentation describing other injury determinations (e.g., marine mammal and sea turtle/longline), NMFS’ previous scallop dredge injury initiative, the utility of such injury guidance, and an overview of the existing working guidance (Appendix 2). Twelve case studies, representing a variety of sea turtle species, injury types, and commercial fishing gear, were then presented. The workshop participants were asked to individually evaluate the case studies based upon the information presented (e.g., the observer reports and photos), and make injury recommendations using the existing NMFS working guidance as well as their expert opinion. Participants completed a feedback form (Appendix 3), which was collected at the end of Day One. Day Two consisted of a presentation on the NEFSC observer program, and discussion on the case studies and expert opinion. Participants proceeded to discuss the injury working guidance, as well as other relevant injury topics.

Input received from individual participants at the meeting was later then used by NMFS to revise the technical guidelines for assessing sea turtle injuries in Northeast fishing gear. The technical guidelines are applicable to sea turtles observed alive with or without injuries.

Presentation Summaries

The number of formal presentations was limited in order to provide for case study review and ample time for discussion. Brief summaries of the two presentations that were given are as follows.

Introduction and Background

            Carrie Upite, NMFS Northeast Regional Office

Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle/Longline Initiatives

The first topics discussed were the marine mammal and sea turtle/longline serious injury guidance. Through regulatory action, NMFS has defined serious injury for marine mammals as “any injury that will likely result in mortality.” “Injury” is further defined as “a wound or other physical harm. Signs of injury to a marine mammal include, but are not limited to, visible blood flow, loss of or damage to an appendage or jaw, inability to use one or more appendages, asymmetry in the shape of the body or body position, noticeable swelling or hemorrhage, laceration, puncture or rupture of the eyeball, listless appearance or inability to defend itself, inability to swim or dive upon release from fishing gear, or signs of equilibrium imbalance. Any animal that ingests fishing gear, or any animal that is released with fishing gear entangling, trailing or perforating any part of the body will be considered injured regardless of the absence of any wound or other evidence of injury.” (50 CFR 229.2). In 1997, a workshop was held that discussed injuries to marine mammals from commercial fishing operations, and the result was a series of recommendations on which injuries should be considered serious (Angliss and DeMaster 1998). In 2007, another workshop was convened to review the previous recommendations and guidance, review any newly available information, and discuss the use of, and necessary changes to, existing guidance for distinguishing serious from non-serious injuries (Andersen et al. 2008). A matrix was developed that highlighted injury categories and serious injury status by taxonomic group. Using this table as a starting point, NMFS is currently working on national criteria for marine mammal serious injuries.

In 2001, NMFS developed criteria for post-hooking mortality of sea turtles from longline gear. In 2004, a workshop was convened to review the 2001 criteria and revise if necessary. The result of subsequent NMFS discussions on the information obtained at this workshop was a table highlighting various injury categories, release conditions, species differences, and percent mortality after release from longline gear (Ryder et al. 2006). These criteria have been applied to sea turtle takes in the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery, as well as recently to the Gulf of Mexico reef fish bottom longline fishery.

2004 Scallop Dredge Injury Determinations

Prompted by observations of sea turtles with varying levels of injuries in the Atlantic sea scallop dredge fishery in 2001 and 2002, NMFS recognized the need to better assess post-release survivability for animals taken in this fishery. In 2003, NMFS sent a questionnaire to individuals with identified expertise in sea turtle carapace injuries, anatomy and/or veterinary medicine. Based on the feedback received, serious injury guidance for hard-shelled sea turtles taken in scallop dredge gear was developed and finalized in 2004. The guidance consisted of three categories (low, medium (50%), and high chance of survival) and corresponding injury type descriptions in each of the categories. This guidance was applied to 2003 observed scallop dredge sea turtle takes. A working group, consisting of staff from the NMFS NERO and NEFSC, reviewed each take record and placed the observed turtles into one of the three categories. NMFS NERO Section 7 staff used these results to develop a mortality rate for scallop dredge interactions of 64%; this mortality rate was applied to the fishery’s anticipated take in development of the Incidental Take Statement. Due to a number of reasons, one of which was the recognized need to expand the guidance to other gear and injury types, the injury guidance has not yet been applied to scallop dredge observed takes after 2003.

Current Project

Because there was a need to include other fishing gears, including scallop dredges, there was a need to discuss and update the injury determination guidance. Expanding the guidance on sea turtle injuries occurring from all NER gear types was identified as a priority for the NMFS NERO sea turtle management program. In Section 7 consultations, it is necessary to estimate the amount or extent of take (lethal and non-lethal) expected from the proposed action. More accurately assessing the post-release survivability from sea turtle and fishery interactions would help predict the level of lethal versus non-lethal incidental take, assess the impacts of Federal fishery actions on sea turtles, and monitor lethal and non-lethal take levels.

The guidance would be implemented by having NMFS staff evaluate each observed sea turtle take record and determine: (1) if the injury likely came from the observed haul/tow/set (which may be interpreted as a “fresh” injury); and, if fresh and from the interaction in question, (2) the corresponding chance of survival, based upon the working guidance categories. The fishery observers will not be making the post-release survival assignments at sea; those determinations will be made by the NMFS NERO and NEFSC staff, in consultation with veterinarians, when appropriate and available (“the workgroup”). The workgroup will evaluate all sea turtle takes observed by the NEFOP and apply the appropriate working guidance, which may be the guidance finalized in this document or through a separate initiative (e.g., longline post-release mortality workshop). For example, if a sea turtle is observed in Northeast bottom longline gear by the NEFOP, the workgroup would evaluate the likely interaction result using the current longline post-release criteria. Pound net takes documented by the NEFOP will also be evaluated by the workgroup. The existing pound net evaluation criteria may be amended in the future, as necessary. [Note that the distinction of the various available post-release criteria and their use by this workgroup was not highlighted in the workshop presentation, but is added here for clarification.] For post-release mortality, the workgroup will only be evaluating sea turtles documented as alive or unknown by the observer, as those noted as dead will be recorded as such in the observer database. It is the intent for the workgroup to meet to discuss the observer records, and then develop a document describing each sea turtle take, workgroup discussion comments, and corresponding chance of survival. To the extent possible, the goal is for the workgroup to use a consistent objective approach for assessing sea turtle injuries documented in observed interactions to better estimate post-release mortality from fisheries.

Northeast Fisheries Observer Program Overview

            Sara Wetmore, NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center

An overview of the NEFOP was presented to give the participants background information on how and what fishery observer data is collected and used. A description of the program was provided, followed by the process of allocating program funding and seadays. The three-week observer training was described, including a detailed description of the sea turtle training and exam. The sea turtle training component includes classroom training, hands on workshops, and exams on sea turtle species identification, measuring, tagging, and handling (among other things), and typically lasts one full day. The type of information observers collect consists of vessel and trip information, economic costs, gear characteristics, haul information, environmental conditions, catch composition and disposition, biological sampling, sightings of marine mammals and sea turtles, and incidental take information. Incidental take information is entered onto an Incidental Take Log and Biological Sampling Log (Appendix 4). If a turtle is captured, observers are instructed to handle, photograph, measure, tag and biopsy the animal. The observer program operates under the auspices of an ESA section 10(a)(1)(A) scientific research permit issued to the NEFSC. Observers collect detailed information on sea turtle injuries, but do not state, record, or determine whether the sea turtle is “injured” or “not injured.” After the trip, NMFS NEFOP staff review the information, de-brief observers, enter data, and post the information on the NEFOP website (

For reference during the meeting, workshop participants were given a binder with veterinarian comments from previously observed turtle takes, necropsy reports and veterinarian comments on cases in which the ultimate fate of the sea turtle was known, sea turtle incidental takes with observer comments from 1995 to 2009 for all Northeast Region areas and gear types, and blank observer sampling logs.

Information Available for Review

Case Studies

The following represent the range of case studies that were evaluated by the workshop participants. Workshop participants were asked to review the information available on each case, indicate if the injury was fresh (likely a result of the gear interaction), the risk category based on the existing draft NMFS Working Guidance (Appendix 2), and the survival determination based on their expertise. The list of case studies is provided here for insight into the species, gear types and seasonality of the case studies evaluated. The animals presented with varying levels and types of injuries, such as carapace cracks, bleeding, and no wounds but needing resuscitation.

1. Leatherback; otter trawl; November 2007
2. Loggerhead; scallop dredge; July 2004
3. Loggerhead; scallop dredge; October 2005
4. Kemp’s ridley; beach seine; December 2007
5. Kemp’s ridley; scallop dredge; August 2005
6. Loggerhead; scallop dredge; October 2004
7. Loggerhead; scallop trawl; July 2005
8. Loggerhead; scallop dredge; October 2003
9. Loggerhead; scallop dredge; September 2009
10. Loggerhead; otter trawl; September 2009
11. Loggerhead; scallop dredge; August 2009
12. Loggerhead; otter trawl; January 2007

Known Fate Cases

In order to provide the participants a range of scenarios and circumstances to consider before reviewing the case studies, a series of cases was presented in which the fate of the turtle after capture in the gear was known. The purpose was to exemplify the range and variability of injuries that contributed to mortality after interactions with Northeast and Mid-Atlantic fishing gear. The veterinarian’s comments for each of these case studies were also provided to the participants for reference. Some of the following cases presented with conditions or injuries similar to other turtles that were released alive (some of which were included in the case studies noted above).

1. Loggerhead; otter trawl; January 2007
          Resuscitated without success
2. Loggerhead; gillnet; June 2008
          Lethal encounter without significant external injury
3. Loggerhead; scallop dredge; June 2008
          Alive when found, significant internal injuries, released dead
4. Loggerhead; scallop dredge; August 2009
          Alive and active when found, carapace cracks and flipper injury, transported to rehabilitation facility
5. Leatherback; gillnet; December 2006
          Thought to be alive when first observed, entangled in gear, when net able to be hauled, found dead

Observer Reporting Logs

The participants were provided with blank NMFS NEFSC observer reporting forms and asked to review the documents and provide verbal comments. The purpose was to determine if the information needed to make a decision on sea turtle injury and post-release survival is currently being collected by the observer program or if additional data fields are necessary. Appendix 4 contains the NMFS NEFOP information distributed, including:

1.      Marine Mammal, Sea Turtle, and Sea Bird Incidental Take Log
2.      Sea Turtle Biological Sample Log
3.      Sea Turtle Injury Reporting Form

Note that the Sea Turtle Injury Reporting Form is not currently provided to the observers to fill out at-sea, but the NMFS data manger collects the information from the observer during the post-deployment de-briefing interviews.

Discussion of Injuries and Observer Information

Upon reviewing the participant comments, there was a wide variation in responses to the case studies. This was often due to the veterinarians’ interpretation and/or documented uncertainty of the observer photos and logs. Given the duplicative discussion on the various case studies, the following summary is grouped by injury-specific comments and then comments related to the quality or amount of information collected by fishery observers. Some of the information presented in the injury discussion may also apply to the information collected by observers. Many of these comments applied to different case studies, but several examples are provided to highlight specific injury conditions.

Comments on Injuries and Working Guidance Categories

Types of Injuries


Resuscitated Animals

Regulations at 50 CFR 223.206(d)(1)(i)(B) identify resuscitation procedures for sea turtles that are comatose or inactive but not dead. However, as with other types of injuries, it is difficult to conclusively determine the ultimate fate of the animal when the animal is released after those procedures. Other initiatives have considered post-release survival of resuscitated animals caught in certain types of fishing gear (e.g., pelagic longline; Ryder et al. 2006), and similarly, participants at this workshop discussed the various facets to consider when assessing the ultimate survival of a turtle released after on-board resuscitation.

Animal Condition

In the evaluation of the case studies, workshop participants were asked to determine if the injury was fresh. A fresh injury may be interpreted as one likely occurring as a result of the observed gear interaction. Determining whether an injury was the result of the gear interaction will be important in the future evaluation of each observer record and whether the injury/take will be attributed to a particular fishery or gear type. The description of a “fresh” injury was determined by evaluating the participant case study evaluation forms and related workshop discussion. In some cases (5 of 12), the determination of a whether an injury was fresh varied by respondents, with most participants interpreting the injury to be fresh, while others not considering the injury to be fresh, noting that it could not be determined given the information provided, or stating that a “freshness” determination was not applicable to the case study (e.g., no apparent injuries). In other cases (7 of 12), there was unanimous or near unanimous (e.g., varied by 1) agreement that the injury was fresh.

From the written feedback received, the characteristics of a fresh injury may include (but are not necessarily limited to):

When evaluating whether the injury is old, factors to consider are whether the fractures (if present) have smooth or rounded edges, whether any exposed bone is gray or green (not white), or whether the injury shows signs of healing.

Information Collected by the Observer Program

During the discussion on case studies and the review of the observer reporting logs (Appendix 4), participants suggested several revisions and/or clarifications on the types of information the observers should record in order for NMFS to make a more accurate assessment of the animal’s injuries. Note that, if deemed necessary by NMFS, some subsequent revisions to the observer reporting forms may also stem from discussions on sea turtle injuries, as included above.

Injury Documentation

Observer Logs

Observer Training/Permit


After the workshop, NMFS staff discussed the case study results, participant notes, discussion at the workshop, and comments on the working guidance. As revisions to the previous working guidance were deemed necessary, all available information was considered in that revision. The following “Technical Working Guidelines for Assessing Injuries of Sea Turtles Observed in Northeast Fishing Gear” (Table 1) represent the final guidelines as developed as a result of the information generated by the workshop and subsequent NMFS discussion on that information. This is the version that will be used by NMFS to review each record of observed sea turtle take and determine associated survival. It is worthwhile to clarify that previous injury assessment categories were referred to as “Working Guidance,” while the revised version (and subsequent mention of the injury assessment categories in this document) is called “Technical Guidelines” or “Technical Working Guidelines.”

Changes to Guidelines

While each specific modification is not listed here, the following represents a summary of the more notable changes to the revised guidelines. In general, the language related to specific injuries and sea turtle anatomy was made clearer and more clinically accurate.


There are several terms used by workshop participants to describe injuries and raised in the workshop discussion as a potentially beneficial for injury descriptions, or determined by NMFS to be sufficiently explanatory for future evaluations of injuries. These terms are either included in the revised guidelines or will be considered by the NMFS workgroup when assessing sea turtle injuries from gear interactions. Definitions are provided here so application of such terms used in the technical guidelines (Table 1) is uniform and they may be considered in the future assessment of such injuries. For instance, the NMFS workgroup will first determine if the injury is fresh (and likely a result of the observed gear interaction) and, if fresh, then determine the associated probability of mortality using the information in Table 1.

Active normal behavior:

In this instance, active normal behavior refers to, but is not limited to, the animal’s voluntary movement around the vessel, using/flapping its flippers appropriately, and lifting its head to breathe. As noted previously, it was recommended that observers record the specific behavior of the turtle, and that a description of normal versus abnormal sea turtle behavior be included in the observer training.


During the workshop, participants suggested that the term “acute” be included with the mention of shell fractures. In medicine, acute generally refers to the time frame of an injury or illness; as sudden in onset, sharp rise, and short course (Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary). The purpose of adding “acute” to the description of shell fractures was to refer to a fracture that occurred recently (versus one that the animal sustained weeks/months previously or an ongoing chronic condition). For example, an acute fracture should be considered fresh.

In the evaluation of sea turtle injuries by the NMFS workgroup, whether an injury was a result of the gear interaction will first be determined, followed by the assignment of probability of mortality using the working guidelines. As such, all of the conditions included in Table 1 should relate to the gear interaction in question (should be “fresh” injuries). In the technical guidelines, acute was not included in the description of shell fracture injuries, as Table 1 only refers to acute/fresh injuries. It was noted that acute fresh injuries may occur in addition to chronic conditions. The latter may be discussed in the comments section of the observer logs.


Characteristics of a fresh injury include active bleeding; white bone (if bone is exposed); clean or sharp edges to scrapes/cracks; no epibiotic growth over or in lesions; and red or pink exposed tissue.

While subject to some interpretation, a fresh dead animal may exhibit the following characteristics: little to no odor; fresh blood present; fresh (not necrotic, pink/healthy color) tissue, muscle, or skin; no bloating; color consistent with live animal; eyes clear; and live barnacles. Note that all of these characteristics need not be met in order to be categorized as “fresh.” Each case needs to be evaluated independently and thoroughly by trained individuals. Again, these characteristics are presented here for guidance only.

Major long bones:

The revised technical guidelines have an injury description of “Any open fracture of major long bones.” To clarify what constitutes a “major long bone” and to aid in NMFS’ subsequent review of observed injuries, major long bones refer to the humerus, radius, ulna, femur, fibula, and tibia. For this project, carpals, metacarpals, tarsals, and metatarsals are not included in the definition of major long bones.


Of, relating to, or located near the surface; and lying on, not penetrating below, or affecting only the surface (Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary).

In the application of the working guidelines, a superficial injury refers to a cut, scrape, abrasion, chip, scuff, etc. that only affects the keratinous scutes (not penetrating into the carapace bone) or surface of the skin (not impacting any muscles or underlying bones).


The determination of whether an animal is lethargic or unresponsive after capture will dictate the appropriate injury category in which to place the turtle (Category II or III, respectively). The observer comments will be critical in determining whether the animal was lethargic or unresponsive, and observer training on sea turtle behavior may help make these distinctions. The term “unresponsive” is currently defined in the revised guidelines. Unresponsive refers to an episode of lack of response to external stimuli at any time. Lack of response criteria may include bilateral eye reflex, bilateral front and rear flipper pinch, corneal reflex, or cloacal clasp. The definition of lethargy includes: abnormal drowsiness, sluggish, or indifferent to stimuli (Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary). In this instance, lethargic behavior refers to an animal that responds to external stimuli but in a reduced manner, moves slowly, or is sluggish.

Observer Form Modifications

As described throughout this document, the workshop participants provided helpful insight into potential modifications of the type or quality of information collected by observers. NMFS is in the process of evaluating the workshop comments and revising the observer forms as deemed necessary and appropriate. After the Technical Working Guidelines are finalized, NMFS will consider potential changes to the observer forms.


This document and NMFS’ revision of the technical guidelines would not have been possible without the valuable comments and insight by the participants at the 2009 workshop. I am extremely grateful for their participation and feedback.

Thank you to Heather Haas and Sara Wetmore for helping organize the workshop as well as for valuable review comments and guidance. Thanks also goes to Dave Gouveia for facilitating the workshop, and Mary Colligan for helpful edits and assistance. The NEFOP should also be acknowledged for collecting and providing the fishery observer information which helped shape the workshop discussion and subsequent technical guidelines.

Table 1.




Category I – Low probability of mortality (20% mortality rate)

Category II – Intermediate probability of mortality (50% mortality rate)

Category III – High probability of mortality (80% mortality rate)

If an animal is found with multiple injuries in different categories, the animal should be placed in the category encompassing the most severe of the injuries.

A 100% mortality rate will be assigned to any animal released into the water in a dead or unresponsive state regardless of its condition at first encounter.

Old injuries determined to be unrelated to the current gear interaction or animals subject to adverse environmental conditions will be considered in the overall health assessment/survivability determination of the animal.


Andersen, M.S., K.A. Forney, T.V.N. Cole, T. Eagle, R. Angliss, K. Long, L. Barre, L. Van Atta, D. Borggaard, T. Rowles, B. Norberg, J. Whaley, and L. Engleby. 2008. Differentiating Serious and Non-Serious Injury of Marine Mammals: Report of the Serious Injury Technical Workshop, 10-13 September 2007, Seattle, Washington. U.S. Dep. Commerce, NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-OPR-39, 94 pp.

Angliss, R.P. and D.P. DeMaster. 1998. Differentiating Serious and Non-Serious Injury of Marine Mammals Taken Incidental to Commercial Fishing Operations: Report of the Serious Injury Workshop. NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-OPR-13, 48 pp.

Ryder, C.E., T.A. Conant, and B.A. Schroeder. 2006. Report of the Workshop on Marine Turtle Longline Post-Interaction Mortality. U.S. Dep. Commerce, NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-F/OPR-29, 36 pp.

Appendix 1: Workshop Agenda

Workshop on Evaluating Sea Turtle Injuries in Northeast Fishing Gear

National Marine Fisheries Service Northeast Region

Mariner's House • 11 North Square • Boston, MA

November 17-18, 2009


DAY ONE • Tuesday, November 17

1:00 PM        Welcome – Dave Gouveia

1:15 PM        Introduction and background – Carrie Upite

2:15 PM        Evaluation process – Dave Gouveia

2:30 PM        Cases with known fate and case studies for evaluation – Rogers Williams

3:15 PM        Independent evaluation of case studies – Workshop participants

4:30 PM        Adjourn

DAY TWO • Wednesday, November 18

8:30 AM        Recap of Day One; Overview of Day Two – Dave Gouveia

8:35 AM        NE Fisheries Observer Program overview – Sara Wetmore

9:10 AM        Review of guidance and evaluation process – Rogers Williams

Discussion of case study results

10:15 AM      Break

10:30 AM      Improving the working guidance to link animal condition to risk level

12:30 PM      LUNCH

2:00 PM        Evaluation of observer/sea turtle reporting forms

3:30 PM        Wrap up and next steps

Appendix 2. Previous injury guidance

(Used in case study evaluations by workshop participants)




Category I – Low probability of survival

Category II – Intermediate probability of survival

Category III – High probability of survival

Note: If an animal is found with multiple injuries in different categories, the animal should be placed in the category encompassing the most severe of the injuries.

Appendix 3. Evaluation feedback form

Workshop on Evaluating Sea Turtle Injuries in Northeast Fishing Gear

National Marine Fisheries Service Northeast Region • November 17-18, 2009


For each case study, indicate if the injury is fresh (likely a result of the gear interaction), the risk category based on the Working Guidance (WG), and the survival determination based on your expertise. Briefly justify your decision. Risk I = Low probability of survival; Risk II = Intermediate probability of survival; Risk III = High probability of survival.

Case Study

Circle 1 per row



Fresh: Yes, No


WG Risk: I, II, III


Your Risk:


Author’s note: In the feedback form distributed to the workshop participants, there was a separate field for each case study (n=12). However, in the interest of space, for this report, only one field is presented to provide an example of what information was requested of and collected from the participants

Appendix 4 (click here)


[1] Workshop organizer
[2] Facilitator
[3] While the NMFS Northeast Region includes Maine through Virginia, the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program extends observer coverage into portions of North Carolina, as does Northeast Fisheries Science Center sea turtle bycatch estimates.
[4] For the purposes of these guidelines, Northeast Region fishing gear excludes longline gear.
[5] Unresponsive refers to an episode of lack of response to external stimuli at any time. Lack of response criteria may include bilateral eye reflex, bilateral front and rear flipper pinch, corneal reflex, or cloacal clasp.
[6]“Through” a scute refers to a crack from the surface to the interior of a scute.
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