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3 simple steps to help save sharks & turtles

Posted by Mike Crispino
24 September 2012

Over the past two years research scientists have spent more than 12,000 hours onboard 5 vessels in 3 ocean regions, studying the behavior of marine life around FADs and searching for solutions to reduce bycatch. Following each cruise of the ISSF #BycatchProject the scientists send me an external hard drive with thousands of images and dozens of videos, which is fascinating stuff for someone who has admittedly never spent more than a few hours out on the open ocean.

A shark caught in netting in the Indian Ocean.

But with each drive came the same troubling picture – sharks entangled in the netting that hangs below these manmade floating objects. It wasn’t just one FAD – it was many. And sometimes it wasn’t just one shark – it was sometimes 2 or 3 per FAD. There were even cases of turtles becoming entangled.

I’m lucky enough to be able to bend the ear of published research scientists, so I started asking questions about this entangled shark trend a while back. First, I found out that FADs impact two species of shark, mainly silky shark populations with some oceanic whitetip sharks being caught as well. The health of these populations depends on the region and in some cases the number of sharks are in decline. While¬†very few sea turtles become entangled their populations are in serious trouble in many regions, so any impact is amplified.

The next obvious question was – what can fishers do about it? And that brings us back to the thousands of hours spent at sea.

The scientists who led our #BycatchProject have identified ways to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the entanglement threat that FADs pose to sharks and turtles. While the scientists want to leave specific design to fishers, there are 3 simple steps they should follow:

  1. don’t cover the surface of the FAD, if you do don’t use mesh material like netting
  2. any sub-surface component should be constructed from ropes or canvas sheets, not mesh nets
  3. use natural or biodegradable materials to reduce ocean waste

Since there are thousands of FADs currently out at sea, transitioning to an improved design will take time and the best practices account for that as well. You can download a copy of the recommendations here.

If you’re like me, you might want to hear this from the scientists themselves. I recently had the chance to Hangout with Laurent Dagorn and I asked him about the non-entanglement design specifically.


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