Making Strides in Bycatch Reduction Research

Researchers at the New England Aquarium tag Gulf of Maine cod to track the survival of fish that are caught and released. Credit: New England Aquarium.

Useful Links

National Bycatch Program
Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program (BREP)
National Bycatch Report
National Cooperative Research Program

Through a tagging program, researchers at Oregon State University are working to determine mortality rates for Dungeness crab bycatch. Credit: Oregon State University.

October 9, 2014

Bycatch occurs when fishing operations discard fish or interact with marine mammals, seabirds, or sea turtles and can have significant biological, economic, and social impacts on fisheries. Reducing bycatch is a priority for NOAA Fisheries and is a key component in the efforts to end overfishing in the United States under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

To work toward reductions in bycatch nationwide, the Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program (BREP) helps identify and foster the development of innovative technological solutions to bycatch issues in our nation’s fisheries. The BREP provides funds critical to key non-federal partners for developing technological solutions and investigating changes in fishing practices designed to minimize bycatch of fish and protected species and minimize bycatch injury and mortality.

The 2013 BREP Report to Congress highlights outcomes and management applications of projects funded with $2.44 million in FY2012 in four priority areas:

The project summaries below provide more detail on the projects funded with the 2012 grants that are being implemented across the country.

Project Summaries by Region


University of California, San Diego

Project title: Using combined video/acoustic recordings of marine mammal/fishing gear interactions to evaluate utility of passive acoustic monitoring (fieldwork to take place primarily in Alaska)

Greater Atlantic

Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation

Project title: Maine fishing industry monitoring program

Gulf of Maine Research Institute

Project title: Testing in-trawl image collection and analysis to quantify and record bycatch in the Atlantic herring/mackerel mid-water trawl fishery*

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Project title: Testing of a modified groundgear to reduce yellowtail flounder and juvenile cod in the large mesh groundfish fishery on Georges Bank

Project summary: Fishing on Georges Bank faces great challenges due to low stock abundance for many species including Atlantic cod and yellowtail flounder that often inhabit the same area and caught together. Quotas for both species have been drastically reduced in recent years. With the recently implemented sector management, any fish caught during fishing operations counts towards a fishermen’s annual allocation regardless of whether the fish is retained for sale or discarded due to size or regulatory restrictions.
Read the full technical report

New England Aquarium Corporation

Project title: Enhancing the visibility of fishing ropes to reduce right whale entanglements

Project summary: To reduce or eliminate the problem of right whale entanglements in fishing gear, scientists and gear developers have considered the feasibility of enhancing ropes and nets to improve their detection by whales. We conducted laboratory studies which showed that right whale visual sensitivity is tuned to perceive red and orange as high contrast “black” against the ambient blue/green oceanic background light. To determine whether changing the color of the ropes alters the distance at which whales can detect them, we conducted field trials in Cape Cod Bay in the spring of 2013.
Read the full technical report

New England Aquarium Corporation

Project title: Elucidating post-release mortality and ‘best capture and handling’ methods in sublegal Atlantic cod discarded in Gulf of Maine recreational hook-and-line fisheries

Project summary: Recreational hook-and-line angling for Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine (GOM) has increased over the past decade and recreational discards are currently approximately double the recreational landings in this region. However, the post-release mortality (PRM) of cod remains poorly understood, creating uncertainty in GOM cod stock assessments and in setting size and possession limits in the recreational fishery. The current project aimed to estimate 30-day PRM after recreational catch-and-release, and assuming the occurrence of fatalities, to establish capture and handling guidelines to increase the survival of cod discarded in this fishery.
Read the full technical report

Pacific Islands

Queen’s University

Project title: Estimating post-release mortality in istiophorid billfish

Southeast and Caribbean

Texas A&M University

Project title: Enhancing proof of concept procedures of potential bycatch reduction devices in the Southeastern shrimp fishery

Project summary: This study investigated potential finfish reduction devices (BRDs) for shrimp trawls. The major objective was to perform proof-of-concept studies of selected bycatch reduction devices and determine if any would be candidates for future in-depth evaluations for federal certification. Prototypes of new BRDs were obtained from shrimp fishermen, NOAA Fisheries staff, foreign assessments and university scientists.
Read the full technical report

West Coast

Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission

Project title: Use of artificial light to enhance the escapement of Chinook salmon when used in conjunction with a bycatch reduction device in a Pacific hake midwater trawl net

Project summary: This study examined the potential use of artificial illumination to enhance the escapement of Chinook salmon out an open escape window bycatch reduction device (BRD) in a midwater trawl fished in the Pacific hake fishery. More specifically, can artificial illumination influence which escape window they utilize when exiting the BRD Tests occurred off Oregon during 2013 aboard the F/V Miss Sue.
Read the full technical report

Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission

Project title: Reducing the bycatch of overfished and rebuilding rockfish species in the U.S. Pacific hake fishery

Project summary: This study examined a flexible sorting grid excluder designed to reduce rockfish bycatch in the U.S. Pacific hake fishery. Tests occurred off Oregon during 2013 aboard a commercial trawler. A recapture net was used to quantify the retention of Pacific hake and rockfish bycatch. During this study, widow rockfish was the primary rockfish species caught.
Read the full technical report

Oregon State University

Project title: Field validation of the RAMP approach for determining crab bycatch mortality

Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research (PIER)

Project title: Testing modified deep-set buoy gear to minimize bycatch and increase swordfish selectivity

Project summary: This project investigates the use of alternative deep-set buoy gear (DSBG) configurations for the targeting of swordfish at depth during the day off the coast of southern California. Gear configurations presented in this work build upon previous DSBG studies that incorporate regional depth distribution data from both swordfish and non-target species into the gear design. Multiple test configurations were developed and trialed from July through January of the southern California 2013-2014 swordfish season.
Read the full technical report

Atlantic Highly Migratory Species

GeoEye Imagery Collection Systems Inc.

Project title: Geospatial preference modeling and real-time catch reporting in support of an Atlantic bluefin tuna avoidance system

Project summary: The goal of this project is to use the Geospatial Preference Modeling to predict Atlantic Bluefin Tuna behavior. This will form a foundation for the development of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Avoidance System for the North Atlantic Pelagic Long Line (PLL) fleet. We have collected non-aggregated real-time catch data from PLL vessels and examined environmental preferences of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. The data is used to develop an integrated depiction of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna “hotspots” based on movement patterns, biological state, and
oceanographic conditions.
Read the full technical report

Florida Keys Community College

Project title: Performance of long lasting shark repellent bait for bycatch reduction during commercial pelagic longline fishing

Project summary: The goal of the current study is the development of a long lasting shark repellent bait to reduce elasmobranch bycatch during commercial pelagic longline fishing. Currently, twelve preliminary at-sea trials have been completed, which have identified a candidate long lasting and effective shark repellent bait for further experimental at-sea replication.
Read the full technical report

*Project was awarded then withdrawn by the applicant due to technological complications. Funds were returned to NOAA.