Going Topless for Sea Turtles: Bottom Trawl Modifications to Maintain Catch Efficiency of Summer Flounder While Reducing Sea Turtle Interactions
Since 2007 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has funded cooperative research efforts to develop gear to reduce sea turtle interactions in the summer flounder fisheries in the mid-Atlantic and Southern New England regions. Initial testing of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) that had been successfully used in the southern shrimp fishery resulted in summer flounder catch losses ranging between 25% and 35%. In 2010, based on feedback from the fishing industry, the NMFS funded an effort to develop a topless trawl as an alternative to TEDs. This initiative led to designing a 160-foot headrope topless trawl equipped with two restrictor lines. In summer 2013, the performance of this gear was tested in the flume tank at Memorial University, and then in the field using the FV Darana R, a commercial trawler. Although the field testing showed an improvement in catch retention of summer flounder, the catch loss was still substantial (23%). In the fall 2013, the net was tested for its ability to exclude wild sea turtles off the coast of Georgia. The topless trawl reduced sea turtle capture by 50%. Additional gear modifications and testing are planned to further reduce the summer flounder catch loss with this trawl.