Two members of Texas Sea Grant’s extension staff spent last month on a shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico testing devices designed to reduce the capture of other species during shrimp trawls.
Working under a grant from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Gary Graham, Texas Sea Grant’s Marine Fisheries Specialist, and Tony Reisinger, the program’s Cameron County Marine Agent, set out on the Miss Madelinein the offshore waters of Texas and Louisiana to test five new designs of bycatch reduction devices (BRDs). Bycatch is the term used to describe non-targeted species caught and usually discarded during commercial and recreational fishing; BRDs are equipment placed in trawl nets to allow non-target marine animals to escape the nets.
Federal regulations require commercial shrimp fishermen to use BRDs to reduce impacts on other species, but the devices also allow shrimp to escape the nets. Some models currently in use can reduce the shrimp catch by 10 percent or more, and shrimp lost from the net equals money lost for the fisherman.
Modified BRD designs or new models that would reduce shrimp losses or are easier or less expensive to install must go through lengthy and expensive federal testing before being approved for use. The goal of Graham and Reisinger’s research was to pinpoint those that are most likely to meet the stringent testing protocols at the federal level.
“We’re trying to make the testing process more efficient,” Graham said. “It costs a lot of money to go through the federal testing process, and it would be beneficial if we could be more certain that gear submitted for certification are good candidates to be approved.”
The five designs that the duo tested came from a broad range of sources — NMFS, private industry and a university researcher. In some cases, the models were provided to them, and in others, Graham and Reisinger purchased or assembled the equipment. The most expensive models they tested combined a BRD with a turtle excluder device (TED), which is another federally mandated piece of equipment shrimp trawlers must use.
Graham and Reisinger were aboard the Miss Madeline, which is owned by Anchor Seafood, for 50 days, including a two-week false start during which they were only able to test one design because of boat problems that required a return to port. They tested the other BRDs in the study over the course of a second, 36-day cruise. The regular crew harvested shrimp in the usual configuration of four nets, two large cones on either side of the ship, but one of the outer nets, alternating between the port and starboard sides, had the gear being tested, and the catch from that net was landed separately from the rest of the harvest for Graham and Reisinger to tally and record.
Graham said they so far have only preliminary results and are now beginning statistical analysis of the trawl results, but several of the gear designs look promising, and one could potentially be incorporated with other gear to further reduce bycatch.
“We think at least three or four of those gears look like they could be considered as potential candidates for further evaluation,” he said, adding that all five models showed little to no significant shrimp loss as a consequence of their use, an important consideration for shrimp fishermen who are already struggling to compete in a market that is dominated by imported, farm-raised shrimp.
Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Within the university, Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.
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