Bycatch, or incidental capture of non-target species, like dolphins, marine turtles, and seabirds, occurs wherever fishing is conducted.

It has become increasingly evident to fishing industry leaders that this phenomenon needs to be reduced.Solutions do exist, such as modifying fishing gear to lessen the chance of catching or escaping non-target species.The modifications can be simple and inexpensive, and are often the product of fishermen themselves.

The issue of bycatch persists despite new technologies and industry acknowledgment. .During WWF's work with fisheries, the organization develops and promotes new technologies and gear to make operations more efficient, thus reducing bycatch.

Innovation in river dolphin conservation

To protect dolphins from becoming bycatch, fishing nets are fitted with electronic pingers that create sounds.




At Baja California, Mexico, a bottom trawler scrabbles the ocean floor and destroys the habitat.

.Some countries' poor fisheries management further adds to the problem.There is widespread pirate fishing that ignores regulations regarding net mesh sizes, fishing quotas, permitted fishing zones, and other measures to mitigate bycatch.

.Fishing methods that typically result in bycatch are longlines, trawling, and gillnets.The longlining technique is a commercial fishing method used to catch swordfish, tuna, and halibut using hundreds or thousands of hooked baits strung along a single fishing line.When swallowed, the hooks (commonly called "J hooks") cause problems for marine turtles, usually resulting in death.Sharks, non-target billfish, and juvenile tuna are also frequently hooked.

Trolling is the process of dragging nets along the seabed, catching nearly everything that comes into contact with them.Coral reefs can be damaged and marine turtles can be caught at shallow depths.Gillnets contain holes in the mesh that fish can pass through to pass their heads and gill covers, but tend to get tangled when they try to back out.Gillnets can be several miles long and up to 100 feet deep.As a result of the nets' mesh, the nets capture everything larger than the mesh, including juvenile fish, sharks, seabirds, turtles and cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises).The nets blend in perfectly with the water, making them nearly impossible to see by echolocation.Lost gillnets at sea are rarely recovered, and can continue to catch marine animals many years after they are lost.


The entanglement in fishing nets of over 300,000 small whales, dolphins, and porpoises each year is the leading cause of death among large cetaceans.There is a threat of extinction for species like the vaquita from the Gulf of California and the Maui's dolphin in New Zealand if non-selective fishing equipment is not eliminated.


Staff of WWF are about to release a turtle that was accidentally caught in fishing gear into the wild.

Many proven solutions to reduce bycatch already exist, and others are being discovered.As part of an integrated fisheries management system, WWF and its partners develop, test, and use alternative fishing gear.Additionally, WWF and its partners are working to strengthen legislation on bycatch and to raise consumer awareness about sustainably caught fish.

.This can often be accomplished with simple and inexpensive modifications.In order to promote the development of smart gears, WWF created the International Smart Gear Competition.WWF offers more than $50,000 in prize money to attract new ideas that may lead to valuable solutions to some of the most pressing bycatch problems around the world.Bycatch prevention solutions developed by winning entries have been implemented by recreational fishing industries to prevent bycatch of turtles and seabirds.


"Circle" hooks are introduced by WWF with partners.Turtles are far less likely to swallow hooks like this than J-shaped hooks, which result in suffocation or internal bleeding when eaten.The hook was introduced into longline fisheries in the eastern Pacific thanks to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and other partners.

By converting traditional hooks to circle hooks on longline tuna fishing boats in the Coral Triangle, WWF hopes to maintain or even increase fish catches while downplaying turtle bycatch.A pilot project proved a tremendous success, and WWF hopes to expand it to cover all longline vessels in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, protecting turtles and sharks while enhancing livelihoods.

In the Gulf of California, we have been working with partners to reduce accidental vaquita capture. A new trawl net has been designed and tested, which contains a device that prevents vaquita bycatch while also catching shrimp.

The WWF's priority is to eliminate bycatch, but we also work to minimize its impacts until that goal is reached.We developed Guidelines for the Safe and Humane Handling and Release of Bycaught Small Cetaceans from Fishing Gear based on our collaborations with CMS (Convention for Migratory Species) and IWC (International Whaling Commission).Hopefully, these guidelines provide fishers, fishery managers, and those who work with fisheries to improve sustainability with best practice methodology on safely releasing small cetaceans accidentally hooked by fishing gear.Fishers, managers, ‘trainers,’ as well as anyone who is involved in fisheries policy or management, will be able to understand why ‘best practice’ is necessary, as well as the science that underlies the recommendations.As a result of the illustrations with the guidelines, as well as the bullet-pointed handling notes, fishermen can prepare 2-page laminated Flips (ready reckoners) that contain clear, concise, bullet-pointed instructions pertinent to the individual fisheries.