Saving turtles — and fishermen

A quick search for commercial fishing items on Twitter brought the following tweet to the top of my screen: “Did u know? Commercial fishing kills nearly 1,000 OTHER animals per day including SHARKS, DOLPHINS, SEALS, & WHALES.”

It’s no wonder fishermen sometimes feel like they’re under attack. When you go to the ocean you’re just doing your job — feeding people — and yet you’re often called out as murderers by some very vocal groups.

Negatives messages like these ignore continued advances in bycatch reduction made by the scientific and commercial fishing communities. The latest such innovation – ultraviolet lights that warn sea turtles away from fishing nets — comes from John Wang, a fisheries researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Since sea turtles can perceive ultraviolet light, while many fish cannot, he decided to experiment with putting UV lights on fishing nets as a turtle deterrent. Working with fishermen from Baja California Sur, Mexico, he demonstrated that the lights were able to reduce turtle bycatch by 40 percent.

As reported by Scientific American, Wang said the fishermen were at first reluctant to work with him, but soon “came to realize that we’re not trying to save turtles at the expense of fishing communities.”

The lights, which are resusable, battery-powered and cost about $2 each, are also proof that not every innovative product requires a total boat/gear rehaul. At such a low cost, environmental groups could easily buy some of these lights and distribute them to fishermen whose nets pose a threat to turtles. That might be a little more effective in protecting sea turtles than calling fishermen killers on Twitter.

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