LEDs Shed Light on Turtle Bycatch

A Brighter Light on Bycatch

English: Fish and Wildlife Service worker on b...

English: Fish and Wildlife Service worker on boat checking gill net full of fish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Becoming accidental bycatch is the fate of many marine animals. Over the last several years, discovering new ways to reduce unwanted “takes” like sea turtles or sharks has become a major priority for marine conservation organizations. “In fact, this accidental ‘bycatch’ is among the greatest threats to the survival of many marine turtle populations.” This article talks about the new addition to gillnets that has shown promising results for sea turtle survival rates. By attaching commonly used fishing lights, such as LEDs or chemical lightsticks, to gillnets, fishermen have had fewer turtles get entangled in their nets. In one study, “there was a 40 percent decrease in the number of green turtles caught in nets and an increase in the target catch.” A nighttime study showed a 50 percent decrease in turtle bycatch when the nets were lit. These encouraging results suggest the lights help the turtles detect and avoid the nets.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle escaping from a net via ...

Loggerhead Sea Turtle escaping from a net via TED device (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Using lights is a new strategy for gillnet fishing, but trawl fishing is another issue entirely for turtles and other large sea creatures. Thankfully, since the 1980’s researchers have been modifying and testing different models of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). TEDs are basically a metal grid placed in a trawl net. When turtles or other large animals hit the grid, they are able to swim out of a nearby opening in the trawl net. VIDEO! I don’t think TEDs would be very useful for very small, baby turtles. However, I’m also pretty sure turtles in that life stage don’t frequently live in trawling areas. They would be living in the open ocean in the sargassum seaweed line. Sea turtles and other endangered marine animals are being threatened from multiple sources (fishing, poaching, oil spills, natural predation, etc). It’s kind of a wonder how they are able to hang on at all. Hopefully, with these constant attempts to exclude or alert animals to unintended dangers, they will at least be able to check a few worries off their list.

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