Degree of Threat: A : Very threatened throughout its range communities directly exploited or their composition and structure irreversibly threatened by man-made forces, including exotic species
Comments: Major threats include egg collecting and mortality associated with bycatch in longline, trawl, and gillnet fisheries throughout the range (Spotila et al. 2000, Ferraroli et al. 2004, Lewison et al. 2004). Other concerns include harvest of adult females at nest beaches for meat and oil, nesting habitat loss, pollution, and adult ingestion of floating plastics and trash (Lewison et al. 2004).
Egg harvesting: Most nest beaches are now protected in Mexico and in other parts of range, but egg exploitation continues. A long history of egg collection contributed to population declines in Malaysia (Chan and Liew 1996). In the 1980s, cash value of leatherback eggs was still so high that the Trengganu Fisheries Department could only afford to buy back a small percentage of harvested eggs for incubation and release (Pritchard 1982).
Fisheries bycatch: Leatherback are especially threatened by longline swordfish and tuna fisheries of the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America, shrimp trawl fisheries, gillnet fisheries, and pot fisheries throughout the world. Even with the use of larger Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) developed to exclude leatherbacks, the U.S. offshore commercial shrimp fishery captures an estimated 640 each year (NOAA/NMFS 2005). Eckert and Sarti (1997) reported that "mortality associated with the swordfish gillnet fisheries in Peru and Chile represents the single largest source of mortality for East Pacific leatherbacks". Gillnet fisheries in these countries may kill an estimated 2,000 leatherbacks annually (this estimate does not include animals taken in the longline fishery; Eckert and Sarti 1997). During 2000, an estimated 20,000 leatherbacks were caught and 1,000-3,200 killed as bycatch in Pacific longline fisheries (Lewison et al. 2004). The U.S. contribution to total pelagic longline bycatch is only around 2 percent of the global take, so most of the threat of capture exists outside the United States(Lewison et al. 2004). From 1978-1981, 126 turtles were reported captured in the Japanese tuna longline fishery in the Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico, of which around 25 percent were leatherbacks (Spotila et al. 1996).
Other threats: Adults historically were taken for meat and oil on nest beaches, and poaching still occurs in some locations. Erosion, development, and disturbance of nest beaches threatens nest success and reduces available nesting habitat (Pritchard 1982, NOAA/NMFS 2005). Where space is limited, females have been observed constructing nests on occupied sites and destroying eggs already present. Nesting beaches throughout their range are subject to human-related impacts including: coastal development, beach armoring, dredging, and beachfront lighting. Ingestion of floating plastic trash mistaken for jellyfish is often fatal to leatherbacks; vessel dumping of discarded fishing gear and petroleum products is also of concern (Bolten and Bjorndal 1992, NOAA/NMFS 2005).