Reducing discards in a temperate prawn trawl fishery: a collaborative approach to bycatch research in South Australia

We present the outcomes of a collaborative research programme tasked with reducing bycatch, and thus discards in a temperate Australian prawn trawl fishery. Sea trials in the Gulf of St Vincent, South Australia, assessed the performance of a modified trawlnet that incorporated a rigid polyethylene grid and a T90-mesh codend. Compared with conventional designs, the modified net yielded marked reductions in bycatch (cumulatively >81% by weight), with pronounced decreases in sponge (92%), elasmobranchs (80%), teleost fish (71%), molluscs (61%), and crustaceans (78%). Using commercial logbook data, we estimate that the use of modified nets could reduce discards by ∼240 tons per year. This outcome was achieved with moderate declines in the catch rate (kg h−1) of the target species, Western King Prawn (mean ∼15%), of which almost all were small adults of low commercial value. Adoption of the modified net by industry was realized in March 2012, because it met environmental objectives (i.e. reducing bycatch and improving public perceptions of sustainability), reduced prawn damage, demonstrated commensurate financial returns, and engaged stakeholders throughout the development process. Overall, the project provides a useful example of bycatch research with demonstrable outcomes of improving the ecological and economic sustainability of prawn harvests.

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Date: 
Tuesday, December 15, 2015 - 13:45