How “V-Notching” and Other Practices Are Supporting Sustainable Fishing
Commercial fishing has slowly eaten away at numerous marine species and ecosystems for decades. It’s an essential industry for coastal communities worldwide but can’t continue at its current pace. That’s where “v-notching” and other sustainable practices come into play.
Here’s how v-notching and additional methods are making a difference in commercial fishing, leading to more sustainable practices and ensuring fish populations thrive.
What Is V-Notching?
V-notching is a simple yet highly effective fishing practice that protects vulnerable lobster populations. When a fishing boat catches a female lobster with an egg pouch, a fisherman will cut a small “v-notch” into the tail and throw it back into the water.
The next fishing boat that catches the lobster will see the v-notch and know she is a healthy breeding female. V-notching allows female lobsters to continue producing eggs and keep the local population in good shape. One v-notch lasts two to three years, allowing the female to fully mature and lay as many eggs as possible.
V-notching originated among Maine lobster fishermen in the early 1900s, but it only became mandatory in 2002 as populations started to severely decline. It’s the only legal mechanism that ensures fully grown female lobsters stay in the water to reproduce. How effective is v-notching on a wide scale?
In 2013, the Orkney Lobster Fishery conducted a study on the long-term efficacy of v-notching. The researchers found it enhanced egg production by 25% with no adverse effects on lobster fishing yields. Orkney raises and releases more than 100,000 juvenile lobsters yearly to support local populations.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Community and Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) collaborate every October to survey local commercial fishermen. The DMR has also collected data on v-notching practices since 1985. This research shows that an average of 70% of adult female lobsters that get caught already have notches, indicating a high level of compliance.
If you’re concerned that v-notching causes permanent harm, rest assured that this practice doesn’t hurt the lobsters in any way. Fishermen are trained to make the notch between the second and fourth uropod on the tail fin, which avoids damaging the digestive tract and involves no blood loss. They even use special v-notch pliers to ensure a quick and painless cut.
Other Sustainable Fishing Practices Making a Difference
V-notching has been one of the most impactful eco-conscious adjustments in commercial fishing, but many other practices also make a big difference. Here are some more methods that are helping fishing become more sustainable.
More Stringent Fishing Regulations
Setting higher industry standards is the most straightforward way to eliminate harmful fishing practices. Any American vessel that wants to fish more than three miles outside the coastline must obtain a federal permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the main governing body for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
There are also federal limits on certain types of fishing. Lobstering vessels can only harvest lobsters with torsos between 3.25 and 5 inches, so baby lobsters and large breeding lobsters stay in the water. Fishermen must also go through an apprenticeship program that focuses on sustainability and requires 200 days and 1,000 hours to earn a license.
Organizations like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council work to create positive change in global seafood production. The ASC has programs for fish hatcheries that aim to protect specific fish populations. It monitors water quality in individual hatcheries to maintain their nutrient retention capacity and ensure the development of healthy fish.
Another great example is the Good Fish Guide developed by the Marine Conservation Society in the U.K. It’s full of helpful information about fish populations in specific areas and the most sustainable methods to catch each species. Commercial fishing vessels and the average consumer can use it as a reference point.
“Bycatch” is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in commercial fishing. Large vessels accidentally capture nontarget species, such as sea turtles and dolphins, in their nets. The fish often suffer a serious injury or die before being released. There are several ways to address this problem, starting with better nets.
New England marine biologists have designed a unique haddock fishing net that uses fish behaviors to their advantage. Haddock swim upward when caught in nets, while cod swim downward. This net design allows the cod to escape from the bottom while the haddock stay trapped inside.
More fishing vessels are utilizing traditional fishing methods such as harpooning and spearfishing when catching larger species. These methods allow the fishermen to focus on one target, such as swordfish or tuna, without harming other fish nearby. Catching one fish at a time also reduces the risk of overfishing.
Traps and pots are great for avoiding bycatch when fishing for crustaceans. Small organisms can easily escape them, leaving only mature crabs and lobsters. They’re also stationary, so they don’t disrupt marine ecosystems and pose little risk to other species on the ocean floor.
Sometimes using the classic fishing rod is the best way to avoid bycatching. Vessels with only a handful of crew members can have a field day with fishing rods and the right bait. Sometimes going back to the basics is the best way to solve a complex problem.
Reducing Fossil Fuel Emissions
Commercial fishing relies almost entirely on fossil fuels. Fishing fleets were responsible for 1.2% of global fuel consumption in 2020. The largest fishing vessels produce more emissions than millions of cars combined. A particular method called trawling is the biggest culprit, creating 1 gigaton of carbon emissions every year.
The fishing industry must adopt new technologies and techniques to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. One such technology is onboard energy generation through hybrid propulsion systems utilizing multiple fuel sources, including diesel, electricity and biofuel. The captain can switch to the most appropriate fuel source during low- and high-power situations.
Vessels can also optimize their hull and propeller designs to maximize natural speed and reduce fuel consumption. Inventions like the self-adjusting sail from fishing company bound4blue that maximizes wind exposure could be key in cutting fossil fuel emissions.
Getting the Green Business Certification from the Green Business Bureau enables fishing companies to track their emissions and measure overall sustainability performance. Constant monitoring to ensure compliance with industry standards is crucial to cutting emissions worldwide.
Sustainable Fishing Is Gaining Momentum
Although the global fishing industry has a long way to go, it has taken some big strides toward sustainability. V-notching, setting high standards, using smarter fishing methods and cutting fossil fuel emissions are just a few ways fishing companies can make a difference. Sustainable fishing is gaining momentum and has a promising future.