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Solutions for fishermen, marine life
Published on: Monday, June 21, 2021
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Solutions for fishermen, marine life
Helping to sew a turtle excluder device into a fishing net.
THERE has been a lot in the media recently about the impact that fishing has on marine life and the balance of the oceans, especially trawler fishing. But could a team of Sabah-based scientists offer a global solution?

Seaspiracy, the recent documentary by Netflix has certainly opened the debate on the commercial fishing industry, resulting in a lot of negativity and fear.

It is hard not to worry with quotes such as: “If current fishing trends continue, we will see virtually empty oceans by the year 2048,” coming from Ali Tabrizi, the film's director and narrator.

But here in Sabah there is a team offering hope, solutions and a brighter future for both fishermen, and marine life.

In the latest episode of Scubazoo’s Borneo Ocean Diaries (BOD), local presenter Alex Alexander boards a fishing boat, pops her sea-sickness tablets and heads to the open ocean to learn more about the trawling industry, the threat to wildlife posed by fishing nets and what solutions are being explored.

After the research in the last episode of BOD, Alex is keen to learn more about the particular threats to marine turtles caused by shrimp trawlers.

Joining Alex on her new voyage of discovery is Liyana Izwin Khalid, the Conservation Officer for the Marine Research Foundation (MRF), based in Kota Kinabalu.

Liyana highlighted the problem faced by turtles; “Trawl fisheries are considered one of the world’s greatest fisheries–related threats to sea turtles.

Every year, thousands of sea turtles get trapped in fishing nets and eventually drown as they are unable to reach the surface to breathe.

As the fishing industry has expanded rapidly worldwide, incidental catch (or bycatch) in fisheries has become a significant threat.

Malaysia’s fishing industry is dominated by trawl fisheries, contributing to almost 50pc of overall fish landings.

This, of course contributes to a high mortality rate of sea turtles accidentally caught in these fishing nets, especially by shrimp trawl fleets – as turtles and shrimps happen to share the same habitat”.

Worryingly, it is estimated that between 2,000-3,000 turtles are caught as bycatch in Malaysia alone each year.

With nearly all species of marine turtle now classified as endangered, figures like these do not promise a happy future for these majestic, ancient mariners.

But the team at MRF are working hard to find solutions, and they have come up with one cheap, practical and easy way to help reduce the number of turtles getting trapped in fishing nets.

This is through the ingenious of Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs for short. Liyana explained how these work and how they benefit more than just turtles,

“The use of TEDs offers low-cost solutions in reducing the loss of endangered sea turtles, sustaining local fishing communities’ livelihoods while preserving the marine environment and fisheries, ensuring food sustainability.

A TED is a simple metal grid frame that fits in the narrow neck of trawl nets.

The grid allows the catch such as shrimp and fish to pass through to the cod end of the net (where the fish and shrimp are captured), while large marine fauna such as sea turtles are ejected out through a flap system.

Also, as a bonus, debris and trash are excluded, saving fisher’s money and sorting time.”

But this is not just a bunch of scientists running tests in experimental conditions.

The MRF team have worked closely with fishers since 2007 to present the many advantages of using TEDs, including improving catch quality and fuel savings while reducing unwanted catch and debris.

As such, many of the trawler fishermen in Sabah are already voluntarily adding the TEDs to their nets and are seeing positive results.

One local company, Widegrowth Marine, is taking things even further, and working with the MRF team to make their fishing fleet more sustainable overall.

With the extensive training and workshops carried out in recent years, the project is really gathering momentum.

“Today, the unfamiliar TEDs have become a common acronym amongst Malaysian fishers”, Liyana continues, “this project is also supported the Department of Fisheries Malaysia (DOFM) in developing a long-term National bycatch reduction programme.

After a successful chain of events, TEDs became legally required in shrimp trawl fisheries in four Malaysian States (Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Johor) in 2017, which helps save at least 1,000 sea turtles annually.

It’s only a matter of time before it becomes a full nationwide adoption.”

After learning so much about the MRF and the use of TEDs to help turtles and reduce bycatch in genral, Alex was keen to understand how and why Liyana got involved in the project.

It turned out it was a love of the ocean and desire to make a positive difference, as she explained: “Dr Nick Pilcher, the founder of the MRF, introduced me to the TED Project; he explained what it was all about and I got intrigued.

I realised that this TED project does not only have a major impact on sea turtles but also offers a bigger purpose to fisher’s livelihood and the sustainability of our ocean.

I have been MRF’s TEDs Project Coordinator since 2017.”

Liyana believes that the work they are doing could pave the way for new industry standards in the commercial trawler industry.

“This project is more than just for Sabah and the entire country.

There are only a few examples of successful bycatch mitigation programmes in Southeast Asia, although there have been quite a number of short-term projects and trials.

Not many have led to wide-scale adoption, government legislation, and fisher buy-in.

This project has since become the benchmark initiative across the greater Southeast Asian region, promoting conservation of sea turtles at the regional level, with Malaysia leading the way!”

 “Sea turtles are an iconic species in Malaysia. They are one of the main attractions in our tourism industry, the ambassadors of the marine life of our tropical waters, and they are even on our 20 ringgit bill!

While they are threatened on so many fronts, it’s reassuring to know we have a low-cost solution to the problem - the turtle excluder device!” With passion and drive coming from Liyana in statements like this, there is indeed hope that Sabah can lead the way in marine conservation.

There are many scientists in Sabah that are undertaking groundbreaking research that is contributing to our understanding of the world’s marine environment.

Over the next few episodes of Borneo Ocean Diaries, Alex will continue to champion their work and will learn more about the marine life we are surrounded by.

The new series of Borneo Ocean Diaries will be shown for free on with the latest episode released on the 21st June 2021.

To see more of Borneo Ocean Diaries, and many other natural history productions, please visit Follow Scubazoo on Instagram and Facebook: #scubazoo


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