By-Catch is anything caught in the shrimp nets besides shrimp. This includes small bait fish, juvenile commercial fish, crabs, turtles, etc. This is one major complaint that environmental groups look at as it is a huge concern to those species survival. Without an active plan to reduce the By-Catch an entire species of small fish could be in danger.
Finfish by-catch to shrimp catch ratio in the 1970’s was around 10:1, that is, for every pound of shrimp caught 10 pounds of non-targeted finfish such as juvenile red snapper. Since the introduction of By-Catch Reduction Devices and Turtle Excluder Devices that number has dropped to 4:1. That number is expected to improve to 2.5:1 when the new assessment data is released later this year.
The shrimp fishery catches over 300 different species of ocean life, but studies from National Marine Fisheries Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Texas Parks and Wildlife show it is not likely to cause serious risk or hinder the recovery of any of the species. Generally most By-Catch by weight consist of croakers, porgies, and other bait fish, which are not considered at risk because of their abundance and productivity rates. Red Snapper is currently considered overfished and is a specie that is affected by shrimping. However, the red snapper biomass has increased significantly in the past 5 to 10 years due greatly to the use of the BRD’s in shrimp nets.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS) and NOAA regulate the type of nets used and requires additional gear to be used to harvest wild shrimp.
One of the devices used with the trawling gear is a BRD, By-Catch Reduction Device. A BRD is an opening in the shrimp trawl net to allow finfish or non-targeted animals to escape while the shrimp is directed to the tail bag. Many shrimpers complain that the use of the BRDs has significantly impacted production of the shrimp but the BRDs have proved to be a very successful device in reducing the number of non-target species mortality.
The other device is a Turtle Excluder Device, TED. This device allows sea turtles that may be caught with shrimp to escape through a hole in the net while the shrimp are directed to the tail bag. This has been a major aspect of several species of turtles population boom. NOAA research suggests that the TEDs are 97% effective. The five species of sea turtles that shrimping effect have all shown a vast improvement except for logger head turtles. The long lifespan and high age of maturity prevent detection of increases in population of the logger heads effected by TEDs.
So why is this not a green rated segment of the Fishery? Enforcement!!
Some claim that the shrimpers and net makers modify the TEDs and BRDs to reduce shrimp loss, resulting in turtle mortalities and higher By-Catch Ratios. Due to restricted funds State and Federal Officers do not have enough coverage to enforce properly installed TEDs and BRDs.
This is a major flaw in protecting the Shrimp Fishery. While NOAA requires all vessels fishing in federal waters to have BRDs and TEDs installed in all trawling gear, Wood’s Fisheries takes the issue of By-Catch even further. Another criteria that a boat producing for us must meet is lower By-Catch rates than the average rate of most vessels in the Gulf and South Atlantic. A boat that qualifies their shrimp as Wood’s Premium must have annual inspections by the NOAA Gear Monitoring Team. We gladly request the evaluation from the NOAA team on the boats behalf and cover any cost associated with keeping the inspection current. Observers are another way of monitoring By-Catch and proper use of TEDs and BRDs. The Federal Shrimp Observer Program is in place to put observers on the boats. As of now there is only about 1% of observer coverage across the fleet. We are devoted to helping the program reach 5% in the next 5 years.
Another method to reduce By-Catch is the actual drag time of the nets. We limit each drag time to 2 hours or less. This increases the likelihood of survival of By-Catch exponentially. If a turtle does get caught in a net and is not able to escape, the much shorter drag times allow the turtle to simply be pulled from the nets and introduced back into its habitat. If the same turtle is dragged for 6 or 7 hours its likelihood of survival is 0%. Not only do the shorter drag times help reduce the By-Catch, they also increase the quality of shrimp being caught.