A Simple Light Solution Could Dramatically Reduce Bycatch Deaths

A new study finds that illuminating fishing nets with small LEDs could dramatically cut bycatch and help to save seabirds and sea turtles.

Industry fishing comes with a number of problems, not least of which include bycatch: since the nets used are so large and are left in the water for a relatively long period of time, animals like sea birds can become tangled in those nets and die.

Preventing that has been a major source of interest not just for conservationists but also for the fishing operations themselves.

Now, researchers from Exeter University say they may have an answer: LED lights.

In the journal “Open Science” the researchers report on a recent investigation where they used 114 pairs of gillnets – that is, nets that are anchored at sea and catch fish by their gills — deployed off the coast of Peru. The researchers attached green LED lights to some of those nets. What they found was that the deployed nets with LED lights caught 85 percent fewer guanay cormorants when compared to nets without those lights.

“We are very encouraged by the results from this study,” lead author Dr Mangel is quoted as saying. “It shows us that we may be able to find cost-effective ways to reduce bycatch of multiple taxa of protected species, and do so while still making it possible for fishers to earn a livelihood.”

Previous research conducted by the team has shown that LED illuminated nets can also be used to reduce sea-turtle bycatch by 64 percent, but doesn’t affect the volume of fish that is caught.

“The catch that fishermen were going for didn’t change when we put the lights on the net – so they caught the same amount of fish, but they didn’t catch any turtles or birds,” Dr Mangel adds.

LED Lights: An Affordable Solution to A Tricky Problem

It seems there is one obvious solution to stop bycatch: to stop using gillnets that cause the problem in the first place.

Unfortunately, this is currently unworkable for many communities in Peru whose livelihoods depend on being able to catch large volumes of fish. That’s because Peru is currently classed as a “developing nation” with roughly half its population living below the poverty line. Peru’s fishing communities need their nets full if they are to survive.

It is critical, therefore, that any solution to the bycatch issue is mindful of this fact. That means the solution has to do two things: it must maintain as closely as possible the current yield of fish, and also it must be cheap to use.

LED lights on fishing nets fulfill both those criteria.

Excitingly, there is an added bonus to this that makes the investment even more valuable. The scientists note that it is relatively rare for an intervention method that is targeted at saving one species to also save another species. That’s precisely what their research has shown though — that this method helps both sea birds and sea turtles — and they believe that there is scope to widen that positive effect.

Due to the fact that LED lights can be different colors, the researchers now want to look at what colors might maximize the protective effect and, potentially, whether this simple method of reducing bycatch might work to ward off other at-risk species. The researchers say they are now working with Peru’s fishing fleets to see how this idea can translate and whether they can use the lights to save other endangered species.

This is one example of a cost-effective solution to a conservation issue that acknowledges not just the very real need to help endangered animals, but also for the solution to be workable for impoverished communities. For that reason, this new study is incredibly exciting.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

76 comments

Latoya B
Latoya B25 days ago

This is the sea version of free range, lowering the abuse is better than not lowering it at all.

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Michael F
Michael F25 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A25 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Marija M
Marija M25 days ago

tks for sharing.

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Arlene C
Arlene C25 days ago

Merci Steve

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Sheila Miller
Sheila M25 days ago

I say live without seafood. If nets must be used, let's go with this idea and make progress with a solution to stop the deaths of sea turtles and sea birds. Thanks for the article.

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Toni W
Toni W25 days ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W25 days ago

TYFS

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Na A
Na A26 days ago

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Christine Stewart
Christine S26 days ago

Boycott seafood!

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