New by-catch device will protect the turtles

Posted: 1 February 2010

As a two-day Seafood Summit opens in Paris today - bringing together representatives from the seafood industry and conservation community - a new law requiring shrimp fishers to use special devices that reduce unwanted fish catch is being put into operation in French Guiana.

The Seafood Summit will hear a presentation about this new technique and discuss other ways of making the seafood marketplace environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

French Guiana location  map
French Guiana location map
French Guiana, northern South America.
WWF says the new law in French Guiana, for which it campaigned with othera, will help to protect marine turtles and other vulnerable marine species in the region. From the beginning of this year the country's fishing fleet is legally bound to use a device called the Trash and Turtle Excluder Device, or TTED, to limit accidental capture of larger marine species.

Widespread use of this device, which took three years to develop, will greatly reduce bycatch among shrimp trawlers. In French Guiana, tropical shrimp fisheries represent a major source of undesired bycatch. Without a bycatch reduction device in place, shrimp represents only 10 to 30 per cent of the total catch, meaning the rest is made up of other marine species.

Nearly half of the world's recorded fish catch is unused, wasted or not accounted for, according to estimates in an April scientific paper co-authored by WWF. The paper, Defining and Estimating Global Marine Fisheries Bycatch, estimated that each year at least 38 million tonnes of fish, constituting at least 40 per cent of what is taken from oceans by fishing activities, is unmanaged or unused and should be considered bycatch.

Reduced by-catch

The TTED is an improvement of a previous device, the Turtle Excluder Device, that consists of a rigid grill inserted at a 45 degrees angle in the trawl with an opening toward the top or bottom. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has documented in research a 97 per cent reduction in marine turtle captures through using the device, and additional international studies have shown a reduction in large marine organism bycatch of as much as 91 per cent.

Hawksbill turtle. Photo: WWF-Canon / Cat Holloway
Hawksbill turtle. Photo: WWF-Canon / Cat Holloway
Hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata, live on coral reefs where their favourite food, sponges, are most plentiful. Fiji.© WWF-Canon / Cat Holloway
After three years of trials, a prototype combining the advantages of different systems was identified. This model, the TTED, offers numerous advantages, including a 25 to 40 per cent reduction of fish bycatch .

In addition, the TTED reduces sorting time and risks of injury due to sharks and rays being caught. The new gear also improves the quality of shrimps, which are less likely to be crushed in the bottom of the trawl, and may also lead to a reduction in the amount of fuel consumed by the boats.

Background note: The TTED is the culmination of years of research. With funding provided by the European Union and the DIREN (Regional Environmental Authorities), WWF commissioned a study from IFREMER (French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea) to determine which selective gear was the most adapted to fishing conditions in French Guiana. Following this work, shrimp industry members expressed the need to continue these experiments and to become more involved in the project. In response, WWF and the French Guiana Regional Fishery and Ocean Farming Commission began working in close collaboration in order to determine the best gear for the French Guiana fleet.

With technical support from NOAA and IFREMER, the Commission carried out numerous at sea trials in close collaboration with French Guiana fleets. These trials allowed the fleets and the crews onboard the shrimp trawlers to understand the advantages of a more selective fishing gear and the benefits of using it in French Guiana. The system became mandatory by January 2010, when the annual fishing licences are issued.