Environment-Friendly Trawling by Shrimp Fishermen Leading to Significant Cuts in By-Catch in Some Seas


A pioneering project is reducing the environmental damage from shrimp trawling. The project, funded by the multi-billion dollar Global Environment Facility (GEF), has dramatically cut the unwanted catch of young fish, turtles and other "by-catch" by as much as 30 to 70 percent in some countries.

A pioneering project is reducing the environmental damage from shrimp trawling. The project, funded by the multi-billion dollar Global Environment Facility (GEF), has dramatically cut the unwanted catch of young fish, turtles and other "by-catch" by as much as 30 to 70 percent in some countries. 


Notwithstanding its achievements and successes, the GEF-funded project only addresses the negative impacts of by-catch, not the physical impacts of shrimp trawling on the sea bottom, nor the social impacts on coastal fishing communities.


Shrimp fishermen participating in the project are also benefiting from the innovative initiative. In Mexico, one of the 12 countries involved, the deployment of environmentally friendly trawls allied to improved fishing methods has cut fuel costs on trawlers.


Significant successes are also being registered in Colombia and the Philippines. In almost all participating countries, sea trials have been conducted with improved trawls. Economic benefits are emerging in other ways. Trawl nets now contain less unwanted, non-target fish, and other marine organisms -- this is making it easier and quicker for fishermen to process the shrimp and thus leads to savings in terms of time and money and improved quality of the catch.


Monique Barbut, the new Chief Executive Officer of the GEF, which was established by Governments to fund environment projects in the developing world, said: “It is no secret that fishing has become an area of enormous international concern with many stocks being fished unsustainably."


“Meanwhile, far too many young fish of target and non-target species are being caught before they can mature. Worldwide losses, as a result of juvenile fish failing to reach marketable maturity, are thought to run into billions of dollars a year. Many of the techniques used by fishing fleets can also harm the wider environment, including the sea bed”, she added.


“This project to address by-catch in the shrimp fishery is particularly timely and urgent and I am delighted that we are seeing some promising preliminary results. Currently, over 60 per cent of what is currently caught in the global shrimp fishery is discarded making it among the most environmentally damaging in the world," said Ms Barbut.


Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which is coordinating the just-over-$9-million project executed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that the four-year-old initiative could be a blueprint for better use of the world’s finite natural resources.


“I think there are important lessons to be learnt here for other fisheries and indeed across a wide range of environmental challenges from forestry to energy -- namely, that creative management, technological improvements and a willingness by a wide range of partners to embrace new ideas, can deliver significant improvements towards the sustainable use of economically and biologically important resources,” he added.


Under the project, FAO has been assisting shrimp trawler fishermen, local artisanal fishermen and regional fisheries organizations to introduce different by-catch reduction technologies, taking into account specific environmental conditions and interests of the participating countries.


FAO has also been working with the respective national Governments in developing the necessary legal framework and strengthening cooperation between countries and regions.

Ichiro Nomura, Assistant Director-General of the FAO Fisheries Department, said: “Reducing by-catch is a high priority for my organization. If less young fish and non-target species are inadvertently caught, they can be left to mature to the benefit of fishermen and their livelihoods and for the millions of developing country people who rely almost exclusively on fish as a vital source of healthy and nutritious protein."


The GEF-funded project, entitled "Reduction of Environment Impacts from Tropical Shrimp Trawling through the Introduction of By-Catch Reduction Technologies and Change of Management,” was launched in 2002. It involves the countries of Indonesia and the Philippines and the intergovernmental organization SEAFDEC in Asia; Cameroon and Nigeria in West Africa; Bahrain and Iran in the Gulf Region; and Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela in Latin America and the Caribbean.


Different countries are moving at different speeds. However, preliminary result of the initiative, which is scheduled for completion in 2008, are now beginning to emerge in several of the participating nations.



Some of the best results are coming from Mexico where over 2,000 shrimpers trawl off the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts. A number of smaller ones work inshore areas. Workshops and training courses have been convened and shrimp fishermen enlisted in the project. This has included fitting research boats with high-tech sensors and underwater monitors that are assessing the effectiveness of the new trawls and trawling methods. Commercial shrimp trawlers were equipped with new designed gears. The new technologies are accepted by the fishermen and 140 vessels are using the new gears voluntarily.


“Preliminary results show a by-catch reduction of 30 percent to 60 per cent, a reduction in fuel consumption and a 20 percent increase in the shrimp catch,” says the latest progress report. “Also, due to improvements in shrimp quality and catches, durability of the trawls as well as fuel consumption reductions, (fishermen) are very keen to use the new prototypes and the number of vessels that use the new designs, materials and fish eye are increasing,” it adds.



Promising results are also emerging in Colombia where the shrimp fleet numbers some 100 operational vessels, many of which work the Colombian Caribbean Sea. Here, fishermen have been testing three new trawls designs also fitted with by-catch reduction devices.


Preliminary results indicate that unwanted by-catch can be reduced by over a fifth with fuel consumption cut by a similar amount.



The trials in the Philippines have focused on boat owners and fishermen operating in the major shrimp fishing areas in Lingayen Gulf, Manila Bay, San Miguel Bay and Calbayog City in the Samar Sea. The project is being carried out in collaboration with the South-East Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC).


Preliminary results, using three different kinds of By-catch Reduction Devices, show reductions in unwanted fish of between a third and almost 70 per cent.


Close to 20 boat owners are so pleased with the results, they are using the new trawls and gear voluntarily. Ms. Marisa Lakindanum, owner-operator of 6 shrimp trawlers, said: “The technology potentially reduces our catch of juveniles and other small fishes, and I can only laud the efforts to involve us in activities like this and enable us to appreciate and see for ourselves its benefits. In return, what I can offer is our cooperation and to do our share to protect and sustain our fish resources.”


Mel Senen Sarmiento, Mayor of Calbayog City, who is supporting the implementation of the project in the local trawl fleet in the Samar Sea, added: “The technology can help us not only to continue fishing but also ensure that there is always enough fish for the local populace alongside livelihoods and income for fishermen.”



An excellent example of cooperation between countries is happening with artisanal fishermen in Lake Maracaibo where the by-catch represents around 72 percent of the total catch, and amounts to 14.000 tonnes or more of discarded small fish in a year.


Mexican fishermen and researchers are assisting Venezuela in testing a typical Mexican gear called "Suripera", which is more environmentally-friendly than the existing net of choice, the beach seines.


On the other hand, tests with the "fish eye" in the Orinoco delta shrimp fishery, where artisanal trawl vessels from Venezuela and Trinidad-Tobago operate, have proved that the device is efficient in the release of half the small fish entering the net while retaining most of the shrimp.

The fish eye is an "escape" hatch out of which swimming young fish can exit the net while the free floating shrimp remain caught.



Other countries, including those in West Africa, the Gulf and the Caribbean, are at various stages, with some having completed preliminary sea trials and others still in discussions with fishermen as to the scale of the by-catch problem and likely solutions.


Note about the Global Environment Facility (GEF):

The GEF, established in 1991, helps developing countries fund projects and programs that protect the global environment. GEF grants support projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants.


The shrimp trawling project falls under the GEF’s international waters portfolio.


More details of the project can be found at or


Mr. Sarwat Hussain, GEF Senior Communications Officer

Tel: +1-202-473-5690

Mr. Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson

Tel: +254-20-762-3084

Cell: +254-733-632755

Or +41-79-596-5737


FAO Spokesperson/Contact:

Mr. Jeremy Turner, Chief of the Fishing Technology Service

Tel: +39-6570-56446



Jim Sniffen
Information Officer
UN Environment Programme
New York
tel: +1-212-963-8094/8210

Joint GEF-UNEP-FAO News Release of 7 August 2006from Washington/Nairobi/Rome

The Third GEF Assembly was held from 29 to 30 August 2006, Cape Town, South Africa

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