Bycatch affects practically every species in the ocean. It’s the leading threat to many endangered animals and is one of the principal threats to marine biodiversity around the world.
Although much of the fishing industry is very specific about what species it targets for capture, other animals become hooked or trapped either when attracted to the bait or target catch, or when they’re simply unable to avoid capture or entanglement in fishing gear. This is known as bycatch. Unfortunately, bycatch often causes mortality or serious injury that can put the survival of populations—and even entire species—at risk. Whole ecosystems can be affected when removal of these populations causes trophic cascades or there are simply not enough animals to play their critical ecological roles.
Bycatch was a primary cause of the extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin (baiji) (Lipotes vexillifer), and poses the principal threat to species dangerously close to sharing that fate. The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), with a declining population of only 450 individuals, will likely become extinct unless fishing gear entanglements can be solved quickly. Regrettably, the prospects for the vaquita (Phocoena sinus) look bleak, with an estimated population of just 30 animals.
Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction
The Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction is a partnership among fishing industry partners, universities, and the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, which supports collaborative research between scientists and the fishing industry to identify practical bycatch reduction solutions for endangered species.
Reducing large whale entanglements
The Bycatch Consortium supports evaluation of different bycatch reduction techniques including whale-release rope and “ropeless” fishing. Our research involves field evaluation of prototype technologies off the New England coast in the states of Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. We test these technologies in combination with lab studies and computer modeling. With collaborators, the Consortium has developed computer programs that can simulate encounters between a virtual right whale model in ropes with a variety of parameters including diameter and breaking strength, as well as models that can calculate loads on fishing pot gear of different dimensions, weights, and configurations, as well as under various oceanographic conditions.
Evaluation of an electric decoy to reduce elasmobranch interactions in longline fisheries
This program focuses on evaluating the deployment of an electric decoy in demersal and pelagic longline fisheries. These decoys exploit the sensitivity of the shark electrosensory system in order to deter sharks from biting longline bait while not impacting the catch of the target teleost species.
Reducing bycatch of Franciscana dolphin
The Franciscana dolphin (Pontoporia blainvillei) is the most threatened cetacean in the southwestern Atlantic. This species is of special conservation concern given its restricted geographic distribution and its vulnerability to bycatch at a rate that is currently unsustainable. This project can identify applicable solutions for the artisanal fishermen who are largely responsible for these high rates. At a global scale, this project has the potential to demonstrate for the first time how to reduce marine mammal bycatch in an artisanal gillnet fishery. The few examples of fisheries in which marine mammal bycatch has been reduced all involve commercial operations in developed countries. The approach in developing countries by necessity has to be less reliant on political will and resources from government agencies to create and enforce fisheries management programs.
Global Bycatch Exchange
Administered by the Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction, the Global Bycatch Exchange aims to better connect the global network of stakeholders and improve the application of cutting-edge research so that, collectively, we can reduce bycatch in the global oceans. By providing online resources to assist in the identification and implementation of bycatch-reduction techniques, supporting expert workshops to identify the most effective strategies, and creating a forum for connecting the fishing industry, engineers, marine scientists, governments, gear manufacturers, seafood buyers, and seafood certifiers, we’re advancing bycatch reduction projects worldwide.