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Technique, technology help fishermen reduce bycatch

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Fishermen are testing new, sometimes high-tech equipment for catching fish in an attempt to cut down on the millions of tons of bycatch caught each year.

Millions of fish, birds and mammals are killed every year by fishermen who accidentally capture them in pursuit of their intended catch.

But new, redesigned gear aims to reduce this "bycatch," saving money, time and lives.

A new Popular Mechanics report shows how seafaring professionals are testing new methods and equipment for catching fish, right there on the water, in an attempt to cut down on the millions of tons of bycatch caught each year.

T. Edward Nickens reports:

Marine life isn't the only thing bycatch affects; it can also sink a fisherman's bottom line. Accidental entanglement costs time and money, and the bycatch of some endangered species can cause regulators to idle boats and shut down entire fisheries. That's why the World Wildlife Fund has attracted a growing number of fishermen to its International Smart Gear Competition, where they've used their experience to develop new equipment—from magnet-laden lines that repel sharks to trawls with escape hatches that allow sea turtles to pass safely through. For sea turtles alone, the stakes are enormous: Between 1990 and 2008, experts estimate sea turtle bycatch losses of up to 8.5 million.

"There is fabulous innovation going on between commercial fishermen, agencies and nongovernmental organizations in a global push to reduce bycatch," says Ed Cassano, founder of Integrated Marine Education and Research Expeditions in Monterey, Calif. "The knowledge fishermen bring to the table about gear efficiencies and fish behavior is irreplaceable."

The changes can be either low-tech -- such as colored streamers on lines, which reduce the number of birds who get caught in nets, or the modification of the size and location of holes -- to high-tech, such as the use of resonant acoustic reflectors affixed to nets that use echolocation to ward off untargeted species such as porpoises.

The problem has designers, environmentalists and fishermen working together for a common goal. Smart.

The New Tech To Save Fisheries -- And The Ocean [Popular Mechanics]

Photo: Land-based fishing nets in India. (Tim Moffatt/Flickr)

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure