Texas Sea Grant project included in NOAA Fisheries report to Congress

October 16, 2014

By Cindie Powell

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A research project being conducted by the Texas Sea Grant College Program at Texas A&M University is featured in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service’s annual report to Congress on bycatch reduction research.

Bycatch is the term used to describe non-targeted species caught and usually discarded during commercial and recreational fishing and can include other fish species, marine mammals, seabirds and sea turtles.

Two Texas Sea Grant staff members, Fisheries Specialist and Senior Research Assoicate Gary Graham and Cameron County Coastal and Marine Resources Agent Tony Reisinger, conducted a study under an $83,571 grant from NOAA Fisheries to investigate the potential of selected bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) for shrimp trawls.

Federal regulations require commercial shrimp fishermen to use BRDs to reduce impacts on other species, but the devices also allow shrimp to escape the nets. Some models currently in use can reduce the shrimp catch by 10 percent or more, and shrimp lost from the net equals money lost for the fisherman. Modified BRD designs or new models that would reduce shrimp losses or are easier or less expensive to install must go through lengthy and expensive federal testing before being approved for use.

Prototypes of the new BRDs were obtained from shrimp fishermen, NOAA Fisheries staff, foreign assessments and university scientists. Graham and Reisinger set out on a working shrimp trawler for more than a month in the offshore waters of Texas and Louisiana to perform proof-of-concept testing of the prototypes to determine if any were candidates for future in-depth evaluation for federal certification.

“We’re trying to make the testing process more efficient,” Graham said. “It costs a lot of money to go through the federal testing process, and it would be beneficial if we could be more certain that gear submitted for certification are good candidates to be approved.”

Reducing bycatch is a priority for NOAA Fisheries. Its Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program helps identify and foster the development of innovative technological solutions to bycatch issues in the nation’s fisheries. The program provides funds critical to key non-federal partners for developing technological solutions and investigating the changes in fishing practices designed to minimize bycatch of fish and protected species and minimize bycatch injury and mortality.

The agency’s 2013 Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program report highlights outcomes and management applications of projects funded nationwide with $2.44 million in fiscal year 2012 that focus on reducing the bycatch of protected species, reducing post-release mortality, improving fishing practices and developing innovative technologies.

More information about the program, including a list of the projects, is available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/by_catch/brep_2013_report_to_congress.html. The 2013 report to Congress is available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/by_catch/docs/brep_2013_rtc_web.pdf.

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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.