Texas Sea Grant duo funded to find better BRDs

September 10, 2012

By Jim Hiney

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A federal grant to Texas A&M University may lead to more efficient testing, certification and adoption of improved commercial shrimp fishing gear that will also contribute to the sustainability of the nation’s other fisheries.

The Texas Sea Grant College Program’s (TXSG) Gary Graham and Tony Reisinger will use the $83,571 award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to identify and test promising models of bycatch reduction devices and then choose the designs that are most likely to pass the rigors of full federal certification testing, thus eliminating time and money lost testing designs that fail to meet federal standards. TXSG is a research center within the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M.

The grant was one of 14, totaling $2.5 million, awarded in a national competition by the NOAA Fisheries Service for projects that employ innovative methods to decrease bycatch. Bycatch is the common term used for non-targeted species caught and discarded during commercial and recreational fishing activities. In addition to sea life, bycatch includes marine mammals, seabirds and sea turtles. Bycatch of various species—whether fish, marine mammals, or turtles—can have significant biological, economic, and social impacts on the nation’s fisheries, according to the U.S. National Bycatch Report, released in 2011 by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Reducing bycatch can help fishermen increase their fishing opportunities and efficiency and can also increase catch rates for target species, the report said.

“Bycatch impacts living marine resources worldwide and occurs in both commercial and recreational fisheries. It is of particular concern if bycaught species are overfished, threatened, or endangered,” according to the report.

The federal government requires that commercial shrimp fishermen use bycatch reduction devices (BRDs), which are pieces of equipment placed in trawl nets that create openings which allow the unintentional catch to escape, reducing the non-shrimp mortality rate. BRDs also allow some shrimp to escape and “shrimp lost from the net equals money lost for the fisherman,” said Reisinger, TXSG’s Cameron County Coastal and Marine Resources Agent.

Of the four BRDs currently approved for use, the most popular is the “fisheye” because it is the least expensive and least complicated to install, “but its drawback is that it also allows 10 percent to 15 percent shrimp loss,” said Graham, TXSG’s Marine Fisheries Specialist.

Each of the other three types of approved BRDs have the potential to decrease shrimp loss while complying with the federal requirement that they reduce bycatch by at least 30 percent, but they are not widely used because they are more expensive than the fisheye BRD and shrimp fishermen view them as more complex to use, Graham said.

Shrimp fishermen would welcome low cost and simply built alternatives to fisheye BRDs that would also increase shrimp retention, but all new or modified BRD designs must go through rigorous and expensive testing that results in at least 30 problem-free tows at sea. During normal testing, boats must make many more than 30 tows in order to log 30 that are problem free, Graham said. In many cases, proposed gear fails to meet the 30 percent bycatch reduction mandate, effectively making the testing period a waste of money and time, he said.

Beginning next spring, Graham and Reisinger plan to solicit ideas for new or modified BRD designs from the federal government (through the National Marine Fisheries Service), people in the U.S. commercial shrimping industry and international fisheries sources and then, with the help of other gear experts, rank the ideas from most to least promising.

The pair will then spend about a month at sea conducting preliminary tests on as many different BRDs as possible, starting with the most promising design. When the cruise ends, Graham and Reisinger will make recommendations for new and/or modified BRD designs that are most likely pass the federal certification tests and be used by commercial shrimp fishermen.

The research award comes about a month after Graham was recognized by the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation for more than 40 years of work on fisheries issues. He previously received the Distinguished Service Award from the Foundation, which is a private, regional nonprofit research and development organization for the commercial fishing and seafood industries.

“The Foundation is immensely appreciative of the efforts Gary has put forth and we look forward to continuing the cooperative relationship and friendship that has developed,” said Judy Jamison, Foundation Executive Director.

Pictured:

The Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation recognized Gary Graham in August for his 40 years of work with commercial fishermen. Graham (center), the Texas Sea Grant College Program's Marine Fisheries Specialist, received the award from Bob Jones (left), Ex-Officio of the Foundations's Board of Directors, and Michael Voisin, current President of the Foundation's Board of Directors. Photo courtesy of The Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation.

Illustration indicating the location of BRDs and TEDs on shrimp nets.

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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. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.