A pioneering project is reducing the environmental damage from shrimp trawling, cutting the unwanted catch of young fish, turtles and other "by-catch" by as much as 70 per cent in some countries, the UN Environment Programme announced today.

By cutting fuel costs, fishermen are also benefiting from the project, which is being funded by the multi-billion dollar Global Environment Facility (GEF), coordinated by UNEP and executed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Thanks to the effort, trawl nets contain less unwanted, non-target fish, and other marine organisms, making it easier and quicker for fishermen to process the shrimp. This saves time and money while improving the quality of the catch, according to UNEP. UNEP chief Achim Steiner said the over $9 million, 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 learned 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 said.

Under the project, FAO has been assisting shrimp trawler fishermen, local artisanal fishermen and regional fisheries organizations to introduce different by-catch reduction technologies.

“Reducing by-catch is a high priority for my organization,” said Ichiro Nomura, Assistant Director-General of the FAO Fisheries Department. “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.”