Reducing Bycatch | Oceanwatch Australia

Reducing Bycatch

Professional fishermen in Australia implement bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) and strategies to minimise impacts on biodiversity, reduce unnecessary handling, and to avoid catching tomorrow's catch today.

The definition of Bycatch is ‘the unintentional capture and discarding of non targeted catches’. The term bycatch is also used to describe catches of undersize fish, inedible species, seafood without market demand or prohibited for sale.

Australian fishermen strive for continual improvements regarding their environmental performance, contributing funds and time each year to advance fisheries research. This work has resulted in Australia being recognised internationally for using some of the most environmentally sound technologies available. Experienced fisher's understand the characteristics of their fishing gear and combined with local knowledge bycatch can be minimised.

OceanWatch Australia's SeaNet program was Australia's national environmental fisheries extension program for over 10 years. SeaNet officers worked with the seafood industry around Australia to advance environmental best practice, and helping to ensure responsible and sustainable fishing practices.


Trawling has been heavily researched in Australia, resulting in major improvements to minimise incidental catches and potential for interactions with threatened, endangered and protected species. Trawl fisheries in Australia are required to use regulated bycatch reduction devices, known as BRDs. BRDs maximise the potential for fishing gears to avoid non-targeted species.

Minimising the unintended capture of marine animals is a crucial part of professional fishing, it not only reduces the workload required to remove bycatch from the fishing haul but more importantly it minimises the impacts on marine ecosystems. These bycatch reduction devices help to ensure that the seafood that ends up our plate is sustainable.


Beach hauling was one of the first methods of fishing carried out along ocean beaches by European settlers in Australia and is part of the history of many communities along the coast.
The ocean hauling fishery provides the community with fresh local seafood, bait and high value exports.
Professional fishermen use a net that is deployed and retrieved back to a beach. Fishers catch a variety of species throughout the year, mainly Sea mullet, Australian salmon, Luderick, and Yellowfin bream. Catches are processed both for human consumption and bait for recreational fishers.

To reduce the bycatch of juveniles, and non-target species the mesh netting used in the ocean beach haul fishery is altered to have larger mesh openings depending on size and morphology of the targeted fish species. The size and shape of the mesh openings, as well as the type of netting material are all important to ensure only targeted species are captured. This method is useful when professional fishermen are targeting demersal fish like Yellowfin Bream and Luderick.


To minimise bycatch in Australian fish trawl fisheries, mesh size in fishing gears are regulated to reduce the capture of non-target species and juveniles.

Additionally, since the 1980’s hoppers have been used in Australian trawl fisheries to improve quality, reduce handling and increase survival of any non-retained catches.


A hopper on a NSW fish trawler



The configuration and size of the mesh used in crab pots or traps are regulated by fisheries legislation, aiming to minimise the capture of juvenile crabs and fish. Escape panels fitted in crab traps allow juvenile crabs and fish to escape, reduce handling time and improve the quality of retained catches.


Escape rings may be fitted to eel traps to ensure the release of any juvenile eels that may enter the trap, resulting in improved quality of retained live eels.


Fish traps are generally made from wire mesh. Large mesh sections in traps ensure that catches consist of targeted sizes by maximising the escape of juvenile fish.



There has been much research in Australia to determine the configuration of mesh nets, and permitted sizes of the mesh openings. This ensures that this method of fishing minimises bycatch. The size or openings of the diamond shaped mesh are regulated by state based fisheries legislation.

In addition, professional fishers implement actions to maximise the survival of any juvenile fish and non-retained fish species that may be caught and released upon capture.


Research trials have improved the design of tunnel nets, for example fitting a large separator panel (modified turtle excluder device), which mitigates the capture of unwanted marine species such as stingray, sharks and turtles. Ensuring these species do not enter the tunnel of the net, the quality of retained catches are maximised. Fishers who operate with this method have also helped sea turtle scientists with the valuable collection of data.

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