Sea turtle bycatch has been documented in the large-mesh gillnet fishery that targets flounder in estuarine waters of North Carolina (NC). However, only portions of the fishery operated under Endangered Species Act Incidental Take Permits and had regular observer coverage to determine the occurrence and extent of sea turtle bycatch. From June through November 2009, an Alternative Platform Observer Program (APOP) was initiated in southeastern Carteret County, NC, to document turtle entanglements. Observers covered 1.6% of the total number of large-mesh gillnet trips reported (1.1% of landings) and documented turtle bycatch (n = 22) on 36% of the observed trips (12 of 33). Most turtles were recovered alive (n = 15), and all interactions occurred in June, July, and August. Bycaught sea turtle species included 12 greens (Chelonia mydas), 5 Kemp’s ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii), and 5 loggerheads (Caretta caretta). Hauls with bycaught turtles in June had a significantly greater mean string length than those without bycatch (P = 0.02), but despite the institution of regulations limiting string length, no difference was found in mean string length overall before (June) and after (July-November) regulations went into effect. Documented turtle bycatch in this area supports the need for observer coverage across the entire spatio-temporal scope of the fishery at levels necessary for robust bycatch estimates. Representative observer data across longer time series can inform managers where and when bycatch risks are greatest and help in developing mitigation measures that decrease bycatch risk while reducing negative economic impacts on the fishers.

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