By Ryan Keller, SRC Intern
Bycatch of megafauna (larger organisms) is a serious negative side effect that stems from the practice of commercial fishing worldwide. Often fishing practices such as long lines or using nets are effective at catching the target species but also will entrap many other organisms. Often for organisms that breath air this means mortality as they may be stuck underwater for a longer period of time then they able to hold their breath. Baja California Sur, Mexico has some of the highest recorded megafauna bycatch rates of anywhere in the world due to heavy use of bottom-set nets. Unfortunately this area also happens to be a foraging mecca for endangered loggerhead turtles.
Between 2007-2009 Stanford University researches worked with local fisherman to compare the megafauna’ bycatch rates between traditional nets (with buoys) and bouyless nets. Both types of nets were set near each other during the trials and the difference in bycatch recorded. The nets were checked on a regular basis to try and prevent mortality of any turtles caught in the nets. Local fisherman were compensated for setting two of the experimental nets and having a researcher with them on their trips. Later in the experiment partner fisherman were hired to fish exclusively the bouyless nets. All turtles that were caught in the nets were tagged, measured and released. In all trials the fisherman were allowed to keep their catch and bring it to market. The difference in the monetary value of catches between types of nets was also calculated.
There was found to be a 67% mean reduction in the number of turtles caught in the bouyless nets compared to traditional nets with a minimal impact on the quantity of target species. There was a decreased market value in the catch from the bouyless nets but this is most likely due to higher than average amounts of certain species being caught and brought to market at one time driving the price down. There has been other research done in this area that shows small changes such as illuminating nets at night also reduce the amount of bycatch. It is not practical to just ban the present commercial fishing methods completely. Finding ways to make small changes that have minimal impact on the fisherman and their income while drastically decreasing bycatch is the best way to gain acceptance and support from the industry. If the fisherman are minimally impacted they are much more likely to take up the new practices and not resist or revert back to prior methods.
Peckham, S. H., Lucero‐Romero, J., Maldonado‐Díaz, D., Rodríguez‐Sánchez, A., Senko, J., Wojakowski, M., & Gaos, A. (2015). Buoyless Nets Reduce Sea Turtle Bycatch in Coastal Net Fisheries. Conservation Letters.