Scientist involved in NASA-backed project to minimise fisheries bycatch - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Scientist involved in NASA-backed project to minimise fisheries bycatch

31 May 2018

A University of the Sunshine Coast scientist has helped develop a program aimed at minimising fisheries bycatch and conserving endangered and vulnerable marine life.

Lecturer in Animal Ecology Dr Kylie Scales was part of a collaborative research team, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and San Diego State University in the United States, that has produced the ground-breaking EcoCast program.

This online resource, currently being trialled by the fishing industry in the US, uses near real-time satellite data to help fishers locate the best places to fish to maximise target catch and minimise bycatch of non-target species. Its development has been backed by NASA.

The research behind the program was published today in the renowned scientific journal Science Advances.

“From a big data point of view, this is a revolution in fisheries sustainability,” Dr Scales said.

“It is the first time anywhere in the world that satellite remote sensing has been used with satellite-linked animal tracking and decades of fisheries data to provide fishers with a digital tool that predicts species distributions in near real-time, helping them to maximise their catch while avoiding catching protected species.”

Bycatch – estimated to impact 38 million tonnes of marine organisms annually – describes marine life caught unintentionally by commercial fisheries. It is a major threat to populations of vulnerable species, such as leatherback turtles, prompting strong criticism from conservationists of the fishing method.

Dr Scales, who was a main member of the analysis team for the project, said she believed a product similar to EcoCast could be used in Australian waters to enable commercial fisheries to dramatically reduce bycatch.

“This is about dynamic ocean management, with a move towards recognising that the oceans are fluid and that the management of no-catch zones should reflect that,” she said.

Along with Dr Scales from USC, the NOAA-led project also involved researchers from San Diego State University, Stanford University, the University of California Santa Cruz, Old Dominion University, and the University of Maryland.

Representatives from the United States fishing industry also contributed to the program.

Findings from the research, including a suggestion to significantly reduce the size of no-catch zones, are included in the Science Advances journal article.

EcoCast currently provides warning locations for drift gillnet fisheries to avoid bycatch of leatherback sea turtles, blue sharks and California sea lions.

- Tom Snowdon

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