It’s funny how things can just become so… routine. Incredibly, that’s how things seemed today out on the water. The Malaysian delegation was today a part of the team, rather than outside observers. Syed was out on turtle recovery duty, once, twice, and ready for more. Rosidi, Sharum and Godfery took turns on the dive boat, before Syed claimed that spot too. But the wonderful thing was how it all felt like ‘business as usual’. The guys were stuck into TEDs testing like they had been doing it all their lives. Quite amazing considering that for some it was the first time they’d seen and handled one. They also were right at home handling the turtles as they came off the trials and got moved around the boats. Day five was a continuation of the TED trials, checking to see what worked and what didn’t. We ran all of the control trials yesterday, so today was all about using TEDs in the wrong configuration to see if they could eject a turtle within the stipulated timeframe. Normally a TED tows through the water at 45-50 degrees, an angle which is steep enough to keep the flap covers closed (and keep the catch), but not so steep that the turtles hit it and don’t know up from down and can’t get out. Most people have a mental picture of a TED in which the flaps fly open and a massive gap is waiting for the turtle to swim out (and that fish and shrimp are Nemo-clever and go ‘Oh, look, a hole, let’s go guys!” Nothing could be further from the truth though, one, the fish and shrimp aren’t that clever and don’t see an exit, and the flaps remain closed and are actually quite hard to push open against the water currents as the trawl moves forward. And when the TED angle is too steep, the flap can push against the grid and make escape even harder. So in the US a grid angle that is too steep and does not allow the turtle to escape is considered illegal, while an angle that is too shallow can result in lost catch which is not in the fishermens’ best interests.
Today’s trials were about making sure everything we thought we knew about TEDs still stood. We set the TED out with a 70 degree angle, where the flaps bunch up tightly against the grid and make sure no catch is lost, but we found that turtles can take more than five minutes to get out, especially if the opening is set to be a bottom-shooting TED. These experiences are like living gold, because it’s not every day someone gets to go out and purposefully test TEDs in various configurations to make sure we are giving fishermen the very best advice, and giving managers the best technical information upon which to base rules and regulations, and the Malaysian team got to be part of the entire thing.
The team also got to sit with Dan Foster and discuss circle-hook trials that the NOAA folks have been conducting, and which coincide with the work Rosidi and Sharum have been doing over in Malaysia, so there are a number of unexpected ways in which this trip has been useful for all. I am convinced these site visits have an incredible impact on people who have the potential to take the message back home and influence the future of fishing operations.