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Illuminated fishing nets strung with LED lights can reduce the number of sharks, turtles and skate caught by accident by up to 95%, according to researchers.
The technology also maintains catch rates for target species, allowing commercial fishing to carry on with far less environmental damage from 'bycatch' – the technical term for fish caught by mistake.
The research found that lighted gillnets reduced total bycatch by 63%, which included a 95% reduction in sharks, skates and rays; an 81% reduction in Humboldt squid; and a 48% reduction in unwanted finfish.
Gillnets are one of the most widely used fishing gear in coastal regions throughout the world's oceans, but often catch other animals not targeted by fishers.
These include endangered, threatened and protected species such as sharks, sea turtles, marine mammals and seabirds. These animals are often dead, injured, and dumped overboard.
Over the past decade, illuminating gillnets with LED lights has emerged as an effective tool to reduce bycatch of endangered sea turtles in coastal gillnet fisheries.
The researchers attached green LED lights every 10 meters on gillnets along the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico and found that they almost eliminated bycatch of sharks, skates, and rays, an ancient group of animals that has declined globally due to bycatch and illegal fishing.
The illuminated nets reduced the time it took fishers to retrieve and disentangle the nets by 57%, making this technology attractive for fishers looking to increase their efficiency.
Jesse Senko, of Arizona State University and lead author of the study, said: "These results demonstrate that the potential benefits of illuminated nets extend well beyond sea turtles, while demonstrating the strong promise for net illumination to mitigate discarded bycatch in similar coastal gillnet fisheries throughout the world's oceans."
Co-author Hoyt Peckham, director of small-scale fisheries at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said: "Gillnets are ubiquitous because they are inexpensive and catch everything that passes them. This work is exciting because it provides a practical solution increasing gillnets' selectivity and avoiding their bycatch.
"Emerging technologies should help us incorporate this kind of lighting into gillnet materials so that adopting this solution will become a no-brainer for fishers."
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