In 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries of the US Department of Commerce highlighted the global need to make marine farming more sustainable. Under the National Bycatch Reduction Strategy, the state hopes to save many non-targeted endangered marine lives such as sea turtles, sharks, birds, and rays from accidentally getting caught in fishing nets, trawlers, and gillnets that can fatally injure them in the process. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Agency’s (FAO) report, the food industry is found to be responsible for consuming 30% of the global energy and infecting 22% of the atmosphere with gases that cause global warming.
The year 2016 was declared the most over-fished year since 1960. So far, the fish industry has overexploited species such as the Alaska pollock, the anchovy, and the skipjack tuna. The over-fishing phenomenon has affected 58% of the fish inhabitants in the South-East Pacific and the South-West Atlantic, while 62% of the fish population is at peril in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
The enormous consumption and irresponsible fish-farming activities are contributing to the deterioration of the beautiful coastlines and the health of the oceans. FAO warns that the year 2022 will see a significant rise of 18% in the fish-farming sector and is deemed to be placed in one of the most “over-fished years” categories. Adding to the effort of saving endangered marine lives, there are many experimental studies and innovative technological solutions that are working on this hazardous artificial problem.
Lighting on fishing nets
A recent study published in the Current Biology journal conducted an experiment in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula to test the efficiency of the green light technology on gillnets. The study found that the use of green LED lights on gillnets can help save up to 63% of the discarded biomass of the bycatch and 57% of the time spent on disentanglement.
Another study published in 2020 delivered even better results with the use of green LED technology on gillnets. The study was conducted in Ghana for 15 months on 20 boats. The authors used green LED lights for their experiment. They also found a reduction of about 81% of the accidental capture of the sea turtles in both cases compared to the five boats that were not lit.
A noteworthy link between these studies is the fact that some marine animals, such as sea turtles, respond differently to green light than many fish species. While these studies were able to save many sea turtle species, especially the imperiled ones, namely leatherback, olive ridley, and the green sea turtles, they are also rightfully pointing at an urgent need to cease the unsustainable fish-farming activities across the globe.
The green lights mounted on fishnets are probably seen as a warning signal by several marine species like the sea turtles. Many fish species do not see the green light as such and end up getting caught accidentally amongst the intended catch. These accidental catches are called ‘bycatch,’ and technological measures are being taken to prevent marine animals from these fatal accidents.
Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs)
One of the first responders to this issue was the UK-based SafetyNet Technologies. Their tech has been saving marine species such as the red mullet fish, whiting fish, cuttlefish, and squids, among others. Among other glow-in-the-dark solutions, the company still holds Pisces as one of its best devices that helps reduce bycatch mortality.
The Pieces device comes as a kit of 10 LED lights that will fit the fishing gear. The LEDs are available in six colors to make selective fishing more effective. The company works directly with fisheries, and their case studies have revealed that different kinds of fish respond differently to the visible spectrum of light like humans. So these different colored LEDs, along with a customizable control panel, enable the fish farmers to catch only the targetted fish.
Another broad BRDs producing company called Fishtek Marine Ltd. recently tested their “sound idea” to save dolphins within the UK from getting entangled in the gillnets or trawl nets. The company’s Banana Pinger comes with three variations to alert whales, dolphins, and porpoises to stay away from the net. The signal is passed acoustically via the pingers. Each ping reaches a source level of 145dB and is laced with random alarming sound structures and harmonics. Going by the EU and the US regulations, the pingers are spaced 200m from one another.
Sustainable smart fishing ideas
Sustainovate Ltd. is an Oslo-based consultancy company that operates in Norway and the Netherlands. The company acts as a mediator between the “government, industry, and science” with a mission to fill the intellectual gap in the industrial and government’s fishing practices with academia, including innovative projects, devices, and ideas. It is also working towards establishing an understanding between the ocean economy players. Its main tool to deliver its vision is through a healthy dialogue that also supports the sustainability of marine projects.
The French National Institute of Ocean Science, Ifremer, is currently working on developing AI-enabled fishnets or smart nets that will sort the fish out in the water and not catch the not-targetted marine life which is expected to come to life by 2025. The institute and its partners recently launched the ‘Game of Trawls‘ project to develop a smart net that can save as many endangered marine lives as possible.
The device is being taught to learn various marine species that must not get entangled in the fishing nets. The device will be hooked with cameras and sensors to make the analysis. Eventually, the device will provide real-time analysis of the water body to people before they drag the net back to the boat.
If we keep going at our current pace, we will not have enough food to feed on next generations by 2050. In the near future, we will be required to produce 60% more food than today to feed 9 billion of us. By taking action now through a more regulated diet and preventive measures to avoid overconsumption, we may be able to change that future and save more marine lives for generations to come.
YouTube: Lighted fishing nets may help save marine animals
Photo credit: The shown images have been done by NOAA Fisheries and Jesse Senko.