Examining trends in taste preference, market demand, and annual catch in an indigenous marine turtle fishery in southwest Madagascar
Jones, Kristin N.
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Marine turtles have been exploited worldwide throughout human history. Products gleaned from marine turtles include decorations and tools from their carapaces, leather from their skin, and food from turtle eggs and meat. Because of overexploitation and a combination of relatively newer threats such as pollution, habitat loss, and incidental fisheries take, all marine turtle species are considered to be threatened or endangered. The hunting of marine turtles is an ancestral tradition among Madagascar's coastal inhabitants that has increased in economic value within the last century. Although Madagascar's marine turtles have been legally protected from exploitation since the country ratified CITES in 1973, hunting continues due to lack and difficulty of enforcement. Marine turtle fishing has been monitored in the village of Ifaty in the Tulear region of southwest Madagascar by the UK NGO Reef Doctor since 2008 through the present year. Using an analysis of this annual catch data as an indication of fishing trends, I conducted a pilot taste preference study as a means to gauge local demand for turtle meat, the main product used from marine turtles in the region, and to ascertain the existence of a relationship between meat preference and demographic characteristics of participants. Accompanied by my on-site advisor who also functioned as my translator, I conducted interviews over a period of one week in the village of Ifaty. Results of these interviews indicated turtle as the 4th most preferred among 8 of the most commonly available meat sources. By age group, turtle meat was ranked 4th by participants in age groups 18-26, 27-35, and 36-50. Participants in the age group 50 and older ranked turtle meat as their 3rd most preferred meat. The annual catch of marine turtles averaged over 2008-2010 revealed an average of 134 (±32.60) turtles caught per year with the majority of these being female green sea turtles 50-90 cm in straight carapace length, trending toward the capture of turtles greater than 70 cm. Estimations for marine turtle populations in the area are nonexistent. The high growth rate of the human population and the increasing number of coastal migrants coupled with an unchanging demand for turtle meat, however, may suggest future increases in demand on the marine turtle fishery.