Date: 19 September 2023
Nomination by: ACOREMA (Coastal Areas and Marine Resources. Ica, Perú).
Young Peruvian Jans Stephens Gómez García has been recognized as a “Leatherback Guardian” by the Laúd OPO Network (The Eastern Pacific Leatherback Conservation Network). Jansito, as his friends know him, works as an artisanal gillnet fisherman in the region of Ica, in southern Perú. He comes from a family of fishermen, and learned to fish at the young age of 12 to help support his mother and 6 siblings, as he is the eldest child.
He has worked in the fishing ports of Tambo de Mora and San Andrés, places where the tradition exists of consuming marine turtles and their products. In fact, he can remember eating turtle meat since a very young age. Since he began fishing, he has learned that turtles tend to become entangled in nets set at the surface more frequently than in nets anchored to the bottom, and he has learned to distinguish among the three different species of sea turtles using identification guides in the boat he fishes in.
Jans Stephens is part of the fishing crew of the boat Don Fray III, which is part of the team working with the Peruvian conservation organization ACOREMA. His uncle, Jans García, who was recently recognized as a “Leatherback Hero”, taught nephew Jans how to measure and collect skin samples from turtles caught accidentally, and how to release them safely. He also knows that leatherbacks he sees in Perú come from distant areas like México and Central America.
Jans hauling in a net (left), finding an entangled leatherback (middle), and releasing it from the net (right). Fotos: ACOREMA.
Working all year as an artisanal fisherman, he releases on average two leatherback per austral summer fishing season. Leatherbacks have been disentangled from over the side of the boat rather than brought aboard due to their large size. The release process involves quickly cutting the net to avoid being hit by the turtles’ large flippers and the boat becoming unstable. Whenever possible, the fishermen try to collect biological information and/or record a photograph of the turtle. Jansito is the “official photographer” of the crew.
Despite having a back injury, he continues supporting his uncle’s efforts to disentangle and release more turtles and other protected species, teaching others to avoid flipping turtles over “belly up” as he says, to avoid injuries–for turtles and fishermen. He says that turtles tend to become entangled in the buoy line and that their presence is most frequently related to the presence of jellyfish in the area. He learned that marine turtles are protected species and it is illegal to take them to port, although he knows that some fishermen sometimes do so to cover the costs of their fishing trips.
Leatherback turtle entangled in a net near the coast reported by Jans, during his fishing activities around Ica.Foto: ACOREMA.
The collaboration provided by Jansito is key to understanding the problem of bycatch, as well as leatherback biology. For him, releasing leatherbacks is a good thing and his efforts at sea give hope that new generations of fishermen take similar measures to support recovery of this species.