Aim We provide a global assessment of the current legal direct take of marine turtles, including the scale and species breakdown at country level, and investigate the significance of legal take to marine turtle populations within the wider context of global threats.
Methods We undertook a comprehensive review of the literature (> 500 publications) and contacted over 150 in-country experts to collate data for countries that permit the legal take of marine turtles (as of 1 January 2013). Current annual take for each country and species was estimated, and estimates were generated for the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
Results Currently, 42 countries and territories permit direct take of turtles and collectively take in excess of 42,000 turtles per year, the majority of which (> 80%) are green turtles Chelonia mydas (Linnaeus 1758). Ten countries account for more than 90% of legal take each year with Papua New Guinea (36.1%) and Nicaragua (22.3%) accounting for more than half of the total global take. Since 1980, we estimate that more than 2 million turtles have been legally taken in these countries, with current levels < 60% of those in the 1980s.
Main conclusions Our results provide the most comprehensive global synthesis of the legal take of turtles in recent years and suggest that legal take has the potential to be a driver of marine turtle population dynamics, comparable to mortality estimates through recorded bycatch. However, it is likely that illegal take, along with bycatch, is significantly under-recorded and far greater than the total level of directed legal take. This hampers the ability to assess the relative impacts of these threats to marine turtles.