Gillnet illumination as an effective measure to reduce sea turtle bycatch

Allman P, Agyekumhene A, Stemle L (2021) Gillnet illumination as an effective measure to reduce sea turtle bycatch. Conservation Biology 35:967–975.

The growing demand for fish around the world is an immediate threat to marine megafauna that are unintentionally captured in commercial and artisanal fishery operations. Bycatch mitigation strategies, such as turtle excluder devices, circle hooks, and net illumination, have successfully reduced this risk in some fisheries. We explored the effectiveness of gillnet illumination to reduce sea turtle captures in 2 artisanal fisheries (Mankoadze and Winneba, Ghana) under normal fishing conditions. We first quantified sea turtle bycatch in Ghana's artisanal gillnet fishery from 15 boats for 12 months. We then quantified catch of targeted species and sea turtle bycatch from 20 boats for 15 months (7427 net sets). For 10 of these boats, we placed a Centro Economy green light (1 LED) at each 10-m interval on the net. We also quantified target catch and sea turtle bycatch from 30 boats for 8 months (2250 net sets). In 15 of these boats, a Centro Deluxe green light (3 LEDs) was installed at 15-m intervals. Boats with economy lights and those with deluxe lights both exhibited an 81% decrease in sea turtle captures (W = 1, p<0.001, n = 20; W = 215, p<0.001, n = 30, respectively) compared with control boats without lights. Illuminated nets resulted in fewer turtle catches for leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) (p<0.05 for all species). Target catch (mass) (W = 53, p = 0.853 n = 20; W = 76, p = 0.449, n = 23) and value (W = 50, p = 1, n = 20; W = 69, p = 0.728, = 23) were not different across treatments. Our study affirms net illumination can reduce capture rates of 3 species of sea turtles, including the imperiled leatherback. Gear modification methods can successfully reduce bycatch if they are affordable and have broad applications for multiple species in different fisheries.