Lighted fishing nets can save sharks and sea turtles from accidental entrapment

Feb 9 (Reuters) – Fishing nets that glow green with LED lights can prevent sea turtles, sharks and rays, including many endangered species, from accidentally becoming entangled, a study has found.

Experts say that bycatch, unwanted fish and marine life caught by commercial fishing, accounts for 40% – or 38 million tonnes – of global catches.

The study published in the journal Current Biology compared the performance of ordinary gillnets – vertical panels of net suspended below the surface – to those lit off the coast of Baja California, Mexico.

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Overall bycatch has decreased by 63% and there has been a 95% reduction in sharks, rays and rays caught in glow nets.

But why LED lights work so well on certain species like sharks remains a mystery.

“The honest answer is: We don’t know,” said Jesse Senko, a marine conservation biologist at Arizona State University, who led the study. “We’re guessing it’s probably some type of warning or deterrent to the animal.”

Importantly, the study found no significant reduction in the amount of target fish caught.

One of the biggest challenges today is figuring out how to make lighted nets more profitable. Batteries for LED lights are expensive and require ongoing running costs, which can be particularly difficult for fishers in developing countries.

Senko is therefore experimenting with solar-powered lamps, which he says can last a week with just 30 minutes of sunlight.

Michael Osmond, senior program manager for the World Wide Fund for Nature’s oceans team, who was not involved in the study, said the technology was promising – and badly needed.

“Most of the (bycatch) is thrown back in the water, and therefore wasted,” Osmond added. “Bycatch is driving many species towards extinction.”

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Reporting by Vanessa Johnston in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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