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Fishing Agreement Signed to Conserve World's Rarest Turtle
Created in 1971 through the construction of about 1200m dyke and small dam Dong Mo Lake is a large lake that swells to approximately 1,400 ha during the wet season. It is fed by the Muoi and Cau Dam streams that originate in the nearby Ba Vi mountains of Ba Vi National Park. Many locals have reported that they used to see many “giải” (local name for Rafetus swinhoei ) in the lake. In 2008, biologists confirmed the large turtles locals were seeing were indeed Swinhoe's Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei). A legendary turtle in Vietnam due to a single animal that lives in Hoan Kiem Lake and a 15 th century legend, the species is also considered the rarest turtle in the world. Although local people still insist more than one “giải” exist in Dong Mo Lake, only one has been confirmed to date. The large turtle is sometimes seen climbing on the bank of the lake to sun itself or even emerging near boats at night, scaring local fisherman.
From 1991 to 1993 fishermen caught approximately 50-60 large turtles, most likely Rafetus swinhoei, using long multi-hooked lines, nets, and explosives. Animals caught at this time were largely consumed locally and it's believed that most of the lake's “giải” were harvested during this time. Active hunting of the large turtles in the lake only stopped when it was felt they had almost all been caught. Encouragingly a large Rafetus was documented in 2007 by a member of the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. This marks the fourth Rafetus swinhoei known in existence in the world today: two in China, and now two in Vietnam.
Despite the importance of the species in Vietnam, Rafetus swinhoei still remains unprotected under national law despite the continued threat of hunting. But in late December 2011, locals from the Nghia Son and Tan Phuc villages participated in a meeting organized by the ATP And Son Tay Forest Protection Department (FPD) in which all fishermen working on Dong Mo Lake agreed not to hunt the species. In all 37 people, 35 fisherman and two lake owners with a ranger from the local Forest Protection Department and an ATP representative all signed the agreement stating the following:
Do not intentionally catch or kill turtles.
Do not trade or sell any turtles.
Do Not fish within demarcated no fishing zone
Certain methods of fishing directly endanger the Rafetus swinhoei , therefore:
Do not use guns, explosives, poisons, or electric fishing methods;
Do not use single or multiple hook line systems for fishing;
Take care to protect turtles when practicing the following common fishing methods:
Use care: Net and bamboo pulley system methods.
Use care: Large dredge fishing net methods.
Because juvenile Rafetus swinhoei are also easily confused with Chinese softshell (Pelodiscus sinensis) turtles:
Do not attempt to capture or hunt Chinese softshell turtles.
If I accidentally catch a turtle in Dong Mo Lake, or see a turtle outside of its habitat – such as in a small pond or rice field, I will:
Contact ATP's local counterpart, or relevant authorities, such as the nearest forest ranger or the commune police
Despite the lack of national protection, the Rafetus of Dong Mo Lake are now afforded some protection. Thus far, only one turtle has been spotted, but locals believe there may be more. Nesting has not been observed in recent years, but this fishing agreement certainly provides a glimmer of hope for “giải.”
Press release by: Pham Van Thong – Asian Turtle Program (ATP)
2nd January 2012
Above: Local fisherman gathered to sign an agreement to help protect Dong Mo's Rafetus swinhoei
Above: One method of fishing lays a large net (100m long x 50 m in width) and very strong may affect to the young Rafetus in Dong Mo
Above: Local fishermen and officials from the Forest Protection Department (FPD) sign the fishing agreement
Above: Dong Mo Lake is important as the only known wild habitat for Rafetus swinhoei
Above: The Dong Mo Rafetus had a close brush with fishermen when it was captured in November 2008
Above: Map showing the no fishing zone area (in red area) in Dong Mo Lake
We would like to thank Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF), Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Columbus Zoo and the Wade Foundation for supporting this activity
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For more information please contact:
Asian Turtle Program
(ATP) of Cleveland Metoparks Zoo,