Bycatch refers to marine wildlife incidentally caught and injured or killed by fishing gear, from whales and dolphins to sea turtles and more. And the problem is significant in California's swordfish industry.
Deep-set buoy gear provides a solution.
With deep-set buoy gear, "what we've seen in the past five years is really low bycatch," says Chugey Sepulveda of the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research. "And what we see now is this growing community of folks that are really interested in the product."
With ample evidence that deep-set buoy gear can help California's swordfish industry do less harm to marine wildlife, it's now up fishery managers to authorize this gear.
Learn more about how deep-set buoy gear can help catch swordfish without harming marine life: www.pewtrusts.org/swordfish
Bycatch occurs in all fisheries. It's when the fishery interacts with the species that's a non-intended target.
We know that it's going to occur. When you put gear in the water, there's a chance that you're going to interact with one of these species. The objective is to try to minimize it to the extent possible.
Because swordfish fisheries are often implicated with having a lot of bycatch, at PIER, we focused a few years ago on looking at movement patterns and seeing how we can maybe address some of these issues.
So we started doing some tagging work in 2006 to look at swordfish depth distribution and movement patterns throughout the Pacific. We determined that off Southern California, they inhabit a pretty specific depth during the daytime.
12, 13, 14 hundred feet deep during the day, a time and place in which swordfish really segregated from all the other organisms, especially species of special concern like sea turtles and marine mammals.
And we used that data to develop deep set buoy gear. It fishes baited hooks down in excess of 300 meters.
Deep set buoy gear uses very traditional techniques just simple buoys, monofilament, heavy weights and hooks.
Fisherman use up to 30 hooks at one time from 10 different buoys,
When the swordfish takes the bait or any other species takes the bait, we see a change in the position of these buoys.
When the white buoy pops to the surface, the fishermen know something's on the line. They can either harvest their swordfish or release whatever's on the line unharmed.
Our initial trial in 2011 we caught our first deep set buoy gear swordfish and we were really excited that day because we saw that our tagging data actually was accurate and that we could use this gear to target swordfish effectively.
What we've seen in the past five years is really low bycatch. Marketable catch rates on the order of 95% to 98%. And what we see now is this growing community of folks that are really interested in the product. They're overwhelmed on the taste, the quality, and they're willing to pay that few dollars more a pound for this locally caught, sustainable product.
What excites us about deep-set buoy gear is that it expands our sourcing base in a very environmentally responsible way. It contributes to our local communities. It provides our customers with something that's discernibly better, because it really is. And it also reduces our dependence on foreign fisheries.
PIER did not do this on its own. It's had a lot of support and help from a lot of different groups, especially the Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Marine Fisheries Service. These two groups have played a huge role in the development of deep set buoy gear.
Every day, we're getting more and more calls and we have fishermen that are excited to try these new techniques.
Right now, it's up to our managers and fishing communities to help develop this initial fishery and move it forward.
We're looking at a new opportunity for west coast fishers. Where we can target a swordfish resource, not catch much bycatch and we're providing great domestic product for our local communities.