Mortality due to fisheries interactions has been implicated as a contributor to population decline for several species of sea turtle. The incidental capture of sea turtles in the coastal gillnet fisheries of North Carolina, USA, has received much attention in recent years, and mitigation measures to reduce sea turtle mortality due to gillnet entanglement are a high priority for managers and conservationists. Efforts to evaluate effects of gillnet entanglement on sea turtle populations are complicated by the lack of information on health status of turtles released alive from nets and postrelease mortality. We obtained blood samples from green (Chelonia mydas) and Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtles captured in gillnets for 20–240 minutes to assess the impacts of gillnet entanglement on blood biochemistry and physiological status. We measured concentrations of lactate, corticosterone, ions (Na , K , Cl−, P, Ca2 ), enzymes (lactate dehydrogenase [LDH], creatine phosphokinase [CPK], aspartate aminotransferase [AST]), protein, and glucose in the blood and also performed physical examinations of turtles to document external indicators of health status (injuries, lethargy, muted reflexes). We evaluated the effects of entanglement time on blood biochemistry and to look for correlations between blood biochemistry and results of the physical examinations. We observed a significant increase in blood lactate, LDH, CPK, phosphorus, and glucose with increased entanglement time. Alterations in blood biochemistry were generally associated with a decline in health status as indicated by results of the physical examination. Although entanglement time plays an important role in determining the health status of sea turtles upon release from a gillnet, our results suggest that factors such as the depth and severity of entanglement may also have an effect on health status of turtles and the probability of postrelease survival. We were unable to set a maximum unattended gillnet soak time to minimize impacts on captured sea turtles, and therefore recommend that fisheries managers continue to enforce the net attendance regulations currently in place in the lower Cape Fear River, North Carolina, during the summer months.
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Vol. 73 • No. 8