Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In fisheries science, by-catch refers to species caught in a fishery intended to target another species, as well as reproductively-immature juveniles of the target species. By-catch is a serious issue that can contribute to species endangerment.
One example of by-catch is dolphins caught in tuna nets. As dolphins are mammals and do not have gills they may drown while stuck in nets underwater. This by-catch issue has been one of the reasons of the growing eco-labelling industry, where fish producers mark their packagings with something like "Dolphin Friendly" to reassure buyers. Unfortunately for the dolpins, "dolphin friendly" does not mean that dolphins were not killed in the production of a particular tin of tuna, but that the fleet which caught the tuna did not specifically target a feeding pod of dolphins, but relied on other methods to spot tuna schools.
According to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, in the Gulf of Mexico, three pounds of bycatch are caught for every pound of shrimp that goes to market. According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, in the Gulf of Thailand it can be 14 pounds of bycatch per pound of shrimp. Bycatch is often discarded dead or dying by the time it is returned to the sea. Trawl nets in general, and shrimp trawls in particular, have been identified as sources of mortality for species of concern, including cetaceans. Sea turtles , already critically endangered, have been killed by the thousands in shrimp trawl nets.
Concerns about bycatch have led fishermen and scientists to develop devices they can put on their nets to reduce unwanted catch. The "bycatch reduction device" (BRD) and the Nordmore grate are net modifications that help fish escape from shrimp nets. All U.S. shrimp trawlers—and all foreign fleets selling shrimp in the U.S—are supposed to outfit their nets with trap-door "turtle excluder devices," or TEDs, to let sea turtles escape. However, not every nation enforces TED use with equal vigor. The size selectivity of trawl nets is often controlled by the size of the openings in the net, especially in the "cod end". The larger the size of the openings, the more easily small fish can escape. The development and testing of modifications to fishing gear to improve selectivity and decrease impact is called "conservation engineering."
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