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LEDs save turtles but endanger fishing

Posted: 08 Apr 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:LEDs  green LEDs  endangered species 

Beyond automotive and commercial applications, LEDs are being used for fishing and in studies to protect endangered species. Such innovative application, however, delivers contradicting results.

A study undertaken by the University of Exeter and the Darwin Initiative in Sechura Bay, Peru, concluded that green LEDs attached to fishing nets reduced the number of sea turtle deaths from becoming entangled in the nets by 64%.

The researchers indicated that this was the first study of its kind. Using 114 pairs of nets approximately 500m in length, one net was illuminated with LEDs and situated every 10m along the gillnet floatline. The other net in the pair was not illuminated. The non-illuminated net caught 125 turtles and the illuminated net caught 62. The size of the guitarfish catch was not affected by the use of the LEDs.


Figure 1: LEDs in fishing nets

The team is now experimenting with different color LEDs to see if their use can be applied to other species that are higher up on the endangered list. Their study was just published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series.

It's a different story along the west coast of India, however, where the Goa Fisheries Minister wishes to ban the use of LEDs and fish-light attractors (FLAs) within 12 nautical miles. In fact, Goa already implemented the ban, while other communities along the coast are being asked to meet to discuss a similar ban. The problem is that, of the 1,000 trawlers that operate in Goa, 300 include purse seine fishing boats, 60 of which have installed LEDs for fishing. While the LEDs are not directly harming the fish, their use is causing overfishing to the level that the region, once an exporter of fish, is now an importer. The smaller fishing boats fear that if boats are not banned from using the lights the industry will completely shut down—something they say will happen within two years.

I'm rooting for the small fishing boats in India. While the information I saw initially did not identify the types of fish in the area, further research yielded an impressive list including barramundi, threadfin salmon, queen fish, sail fish, black marlin, gar fish, barracuda, and cobia, the elusive river mullet. I imagine, since the controversy regarding LED use involved deep-water fishing, the cobia must be safe.

Kind of amazing, isn't it? On one hand LEDs are saving a species from extinction and on the other, they may be causing the extinction of an industry.

-Carolyn Mathas,

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