Seeing the Light in Reducing Wildlife Bycatch
A team from WWF Pakistan has been busy testing the use of LED lights in the gillnets of fishing vessels in an attempt to lower the amount of wildlife bycatch such as sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and whales, while increasing the actual target catch.
Pakistan fishing expeditions starting in May 2017 and continuing into 2018 have been trialling the lights in the Arabian Sea about 250 kilometers southeast of Karachi. WWF Pakistan Marine Programme Manager Umair Shahid and colleagues accompanied a fishing expedition using gillnets for a few days in January.
Gillnets, purse seine trawl nets and longlines are decimating marine biodiversity. WWF estimates that at least 600,000 marine mammals, 300,000 seabirds and 300,000 turtles are captured each year this way, alongside millions of sharks.
“The idea to use LED lights to reduce bycatch came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the U.S.,” said Umair, adding that the NOAA worked with WWF to prepare the recent tests. The LED lights, attached at regular intervals along the ships’ gillnets, seem to affect the species’ photosensitivity. Just how the lights affect sea animals is still being studied, although the results show promise. In one WWF trial, a fishing vessel using around 50 battery operated LED lights reported no bycatch specimens, while an adjacent fleet vessel with no lights reported 18-20 grey sharpnose sharks inadvertently caught in the nets.
This idea has been tested in various fisheries around the world, with general observations noting similar results: unwanted bycatch levels are noticeably avoided by way of this method.
“This is exciting data,” said Umair, adding that the lights had been provided by the NOAA. “But we still need to do further work on strengthening the trials and data collection process. We are also starting another trial on pelagic gillnets and we are trying to scale up those experiments too.”
WWF-Pakistan’s Umair Shahid and colleague Shoaib Abdul Razzaq (to his left) check an LED light on a recent fishing expedition. The lights have been found to lower bycatch levels.
About the contributor:
Umair Shahid is a development professional with a Masters in Marine Zoology. He has been affiliated with WWF-Pakistan for more than nine years. He currently serves as Manager for Marine Conservation work. Umair has led several initiatives on improved management of fisheries in the Indian Ocean, focusing on knowledge exchange, regional collaboration and policy and advocacy campaigns. He recently served as an official delegation member of Pakistan at the CBD-COP13.
Footnote: The author would like to thank John Wang, a Research Ecologist from NOAA, and Mike Osmond, Senior Program Officer from WWF US for their help in making these trials possible. He would also like to acknowledge the generosity of the Shark Conservation Fund, which helped enable the LED testing.