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Malaysian TEDs Visit, Day 6

By Nicolas Pilcher, 16th June 2012

We got rained-in again. By seven am it was already pouring with rain, a nice gale-force was a-blowin’ east to west, as they say, and things were not looking good. Day six was definitely not meant to start like this. But as always, the NOAA folks had Plan B up their sleeves, after some quiet consultation with the Malaysian delegation yesterday: If it rained, they had decided, today would be set aside to examine video and data results from the trials, and then see what the weather had in store for us later in the day. So it was that by nine we had all assembled at our place, and filled the living room with the NOAA team and the Malaysian team, while Dominy set up the video playback onto the large 50” display we have in our place. Once everyone was set we managed to go through several days of video, looking at how one configuration differed from the other in terms of how the net behaved, and also in how turtles were able to escape. And the discussions were loud, numerous, and criss-crossed the room – often multiple conversations were going on at once, in several languages too, as the Malaysian team debated amongst themselves and also sought clarification from the varied NOAA folk. For me this was a sight to behold: In just a few days we have been forging relationships that emails and occasional encounters at international meetings could never promote.

For those of you with a penchant for the technical, here’s the skinny on the trials themselves: Without a doubt a top-shooting TED (with the exit hole on the top) made things easier for the turtles – when the bottom-shooting TED was in place we could see how the turtles struggled to find their way out for a minute or two longer then the other way around. But the downside of the top shooting TED is that debris and coconuts and logs and tyres etc. take longer or do not get out at all. One thing is for a turtle to actively swim around looking for an opening. Another is for an inert piece of wood to be pushed upwards defying gravity …. So the jury is out on which might work best in Malaysia. Indeed, chances are in some places with little accumulated debris underwater a top-shooter would be the best option, but in the waters in front of the Kinabatangan river in Sabah there’s so much wood, logs, coconuts etc. washed down from the interior that the TEDs would clog in minutes if we could not eject them downward.

For those of you wanting to know where things go from here, I can tell you I just could not be happier: By afternoon as the weather cleared and the boat crew decided it was all systems go. While I went on the boat, the Malaysian crew stayed back to get a head start on their report to the Director General of Fisheries in Malaysia. This is an auspicious start – when folk prefer to stay back to write a report rather than go on a boat you know things are moving forward! I stayed out on the boat while we tested another twenty turtles, and by the time I was back in he evening the guys had put the finishing touches on the report, which will be submitted on their return. Not surprisingly, they were telling me that they included so many of the things we had all been discussing all along: the need to work with the fishers from the very start, the need for a flexible approach and multiple options as far as excluder designs go given that each fishery is different, and importantly that the certification process would give our fishers the added leverage and negotiating power that they currently lack when selling overseas, and the need for a legal requirement of some sort for this to all work. They also commented on how the potential loss of shrimp would easily be offset by the increase in catch quality, something the Terengganu trials have already demonstrated. So it is onwards and upwards from here, and I remain confident that the ball is very much in motion, in the right direction.

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