Bottom trawl catch comparison in the Mediterranean Sea: Flexible Turtle Excluder Device (TED) vs traditional gear
The Mediterranean Sea is a biodiversity hotspot where intense fishing pressure is associated with high bycatch rates of protected species (sea turtles and cetaceans) and top predators (sharks). Since the conservation of these species has become a priority, fishery scientists are faced with the challenge of reducing incidental catch, which entails high rates of mortality. Among the species threatened by fishing activities, the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) is a charismatic species considered as “vulnerable” at the global scale. In the Mediterranean Sea trawl nets are the gears with the highest probability of catching protected species incidentally. A new flexible Turtle Excluder Device (TED) was tested for the first time on commercial bottom trawlers to assess its effectiveness in reducing bycatch in the Mediterranean Sea. Analysis of the total catches of the hauls made with and without the TED showed that the difference in terms of weight was not significant. The catch of the main commercial species showed similar rates without a significant loss of size (i.e. total length) with the exception of the largest anglerfish (Lophius spp.). The bycatch of control nets included mostly rays and sharks, but never turtles, although the authors learned from the crews of other vessels operating in the same areas at the time of the trials that they had caught some loggerhead turtles. Our study demonstrates that TED scan be adopted without significantly affecting commercial catch. This informs fishers and managers for a practical and effective means that may reduce the bycatch of threatened species in coastal Mediterranean demersal multispecies fisheries. The measures involving gear modifications require significant investment but they are technically feasible and are capable of improving the conservation prospects of these endangered species. Besides ensuring normal earnings, the TED induced a significant reduction of debris and litter in the codend, thus reducing catch sorting time and improving catch quality.