Developing visual deterrents to reduce sea turtle bycatch in gill net fisheries
Visual cues play important roles in sea turtle foraging behavior and likely influence their interactions with fishing gear. Altering these cues may be a useful strategy to reduce the incidental catch of sea turtles in various fisheries. We examined the potential effectiveness of 3 visual cues - shark shapes placed along the length of the gill net, illumination of nets by LED lights, and nets illuminated with chemical lightsticks - in reducing bycatch of green sea turtles Chelonia mydas in gill nets. We then adapted these potential deterrents into commercial bottom gill net fishery to quantify their effects on target fish catch rates and the catch value. Our results indicate that the presence of shark shapes significantly reduced the mean catch rates of green turtles by 54% but also reduced target catch by 45% and, correspondingly, catch value by 47%. In contrast, nets illuminated by LED lights significantly reduced mean sea turtle catch rates by 40% while having negligible impacts on target catch and catch value. Similarly, nets illuminated by chemical lightsticks also significantly reduced mean sea turtle catch rates by 60% while having no significant impact on target catch and catch value. These results illustrate the potential for modifying fishing gear with visual deterrents to effectively reduce sea turtle catch rates.