Shrimp fishing project is cutting by-catch

Posted: 8 August 2006

Shrimp lovers can tuck into their favourite food with a less guilty conscience courtesy of a pioneering project that is reducing the environmental damage from shrimp trawling.

The project has cut the unwanted catch of young fish,turtles and other 'by-catch' by as much as 30 to 70 per cent in some countries, says the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Shrimp fishermen, participating in the project, are also benefiting. In Mexico, one of the 12 countries involved in the project, the new environmentally friendly trawls allied to improved fishing methods has cut fuel costs on trawlers.

Over 2,000 shrimp boats trawl off the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Some smaller ones work inshore areas. Shrimp fishermen enlisstinghave been trained in the new techniques, with new nets that allow more of the by catch to escape. About 140 tawlers have been fitted with new, more efficient fising gear, and research boats are using underwater monitors to assess the effectiveness of the new trawls. Significant successes are also being registered in Colombia and the Philippines.

Economic benefits are emerging in other ways. Because trawl nets now contain less unwanted, non-target fish, and other marine organisms,it is proving easier and quicker for fishermen to process the shrimp, with savings in time and money and a better quality catch.

Promising results

Monique Barbut, the new Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) which is funding the project, said: "It is no secret that fishing has become an area of enormous international concern with many stocks being fished unsustainably".

"Meanwhile, far too many young fish of target and non-target species are being caught before they can mature. Worldwide losses, as a resultof juvenile fish failing to reach marketable maturity, are thought to run into billions of dollars a year. Many of the techniques used by fishing fleets can also harm the wider environment including the sea bed," she added.

"This project to address by-catch in the shrimp fishery is particularly timely and urgent and I am delighted that we are seeing some promisingpreliminary results. Currently over 60 per cent of what is currently caught in the global shrimp fishery is discarded making it among the most environmentally damaging in the world", said Ms Barbut.

Under the project the UN Food and Agricultual Organisation (FAO) has been helping shrimp fishermen to introduce a range of by-catch reduction technologies, and with governments to develop the necessary legal framework.

Fuel savings

The GEF-funded project was launched in 2002. It involves the countries of Indonesia and the Philippines and the intergovernmental organisation SEAFDEC in Asia; Cameroon and Nigeria in West Africa; Bahrain and Iran in the Gulf Region and Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is scheduled for completion in 2008.

Preliminary results show a by-catch reduction of 30 to 60 per cent in Mexico,with a reduction in fuel consumption and a 20 per cent increase in the shrimp catch.

The 100 strong shrimp fleet working from Colombia has also found that unwanted by-catch can be reduced by over a fifth with fuel consumption cut by a similar amount.

Trials in the Philippines report reductions in unwanted fish of between a third and almost 70 per cent.

Fish eye

Mexican fishermen and researchers are assisting Venezuela in testing typical Mexican gear called 'Suripera,' which is more environmentally-friendly than the existing net of choice, the beach seines.

Athe same time, tests with the 'fish eye' in the Orinoco delta shrimp fishery, where artisanal trawl vessels from Venezuela and Trinidad-Tobago operate, have proved that the device is efficient in the release of half the small fish entering the net while retaining most of the shrimp. The fish eye is an 'escape' hatch out of which swimming young fish can exit the net while the free floating shrimp remain caught.

Other countries, including those in West Africa, the Gulf and the Caribbean, are at various stages with some having completed preliminary sea trials and others still in discussions with fishermen over thescale of the by-catch problem and likely solutions.

Despite its achievements, the project only addresses the negative impacts of by-catch, not the physical impacts of shrimp trawling on the sea bottom, nor the social impacts on coastal fishing communities.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF), established in 1991, helps developing countries fund projects and programmes that protect the global environment.

More details of the project can be found at www.fao.org

Source: UNEP 7th August, 2006