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Effects of acoustic alarms, designed to reduce small cetacean bycatch in gillnet fisheries, on the behaviour of North Sea fish species in a large tank

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Author: Kastelein, R.A. · Heul, S. van der · Veen, J. van der · Verboom, W.C. · Jennings, N. · Haan, D. de · Reijnders, P.J.H.
Institution: TNO Defensie en Veiligheid
Source:Marine Environmental Research, 2, 64, 160-180
Identifier: 240100
doi: doi:10.1016/j.marenvres.2006.12.012
Keywords: Marine · Acoustics · Cetaceans · Cod · Ecology · Herring · Noise pollution · Odontocetes · Pingers · Pout · Sea bass · Thicklip mullet · Underwater sound


World-wide many cetaceans drown incidentally in fishing nets. To reduce the unwanted bycatch in gillnets, pingers (acoustic alarms) have been developed that are attached to the nets. In the European Union, pingers will be made compulsory in some areas in 2005 and in others in 2007. However, pingers may effect non-target marine fauna such as fish. Therefore in this study, the effects of seven commercially-available pingers on the behaviour of five North Sea fish species in a large tank were quantified. The species tested were: sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), pout (Trisopterus luscus), thicklip mullet (Chelon labrosus), herring (Clupea harengus), and cod (Gadus morhua). The fish were housed as single-species schools of 9-13 individuals in a tank. The behaviour of fish in quiet periods was compared with their behaviour during periods with active pingers. The results varied both between pingers and between fish species. Sea bass decreased their speed in response to one pinger and swam closer to the surface in response to another. Thicklip mullet swam closer to the bottom in response to two pingers and increased their swimming speed in response to one pinger. Herring swam faster in response to one pinger, and pout and cod (close relatives) showed no behavioural responses to any of the pingers. Of the seven pingers tested, four elicited responses in at least one fish species, and three elicited no responses. Whether similar responses would be elicited in these fish species in the wild, and if so, whether such responses would influence the catch rate of fisheries, cannot be derived from the results of this study. However, the results indicate the need for field studies with pingers and fish. Based on the small number of fish species tested, the present study suggests that the higher the frequency of a pinger, the less likely it is to affect the behaviour of marine fish. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.