Safe Handling of Bycatch


Safe handling (and release) of bycatch (SHR) relates to the set of protocols for managing bycaught species in an effort to try and reduce trauma and mortality. It refers to the removal of bycaught species entangled in fishing gear using appropriate methods for physical handling, as well as techniques for manoeuvring vessels to avoid hauling or causing harm (see backdown procedure).

SHR techniques are applicable to marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, sharks, skates and rays in longline, purse seine and gillnet fisheries. The techniques vary between the types of gear used and the bycatch species. Sea turtles, seabirds and smaller sharks can be returned to the water by hand, whereas larger sharks may require equipment such as a canvas and crane to manoeuvre the animal. 

In purse seine, longline or troll fisheries, bycatch may either be released directly from the net or line or brought on deck before release. For purse seine or trawl fishing operations, bringing larger species alongside the vessel can aid in-water release by enabling fishers to hold and roll the animal outside of the net, or use a dip net to remove bycatch.

Across the world, SHR is advised and should be followed, to contribute to the safety of fishing crews as well as to increase the chances of survival of bycaught species. However, the emphasis should remain on preventing entanglement and bycatch from occurring in the first place.


Fishermen in various countries and fisheries are required to apply SHR protocols when fishing, including the western and central Pacific purse seine tuna fishery. In La Réunion in the Indian Ocean, a project exploring innovations in bycatch handling techniques has identified that post-release survival of sharks caught on longlines can be significantly improved by cutting the longline branch line as close to the hook as possible, and by releasing the animal before it is hauled onboard the vessel.

No official trials for the safe handling of caught seabirds have been conducted to-date but it is recommended that SHR techniques should be implemented wherever possible.

In the UK, the Scottish Entanglement Alliance has been working with the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation to identify ways to reduce the risk of entanglement of large marine animals (specifically basking sharks, whales, and leatherback turtles). They have produced guidance to fishermen to raise awareness and improve understanding of entanglement, and what to do when an entanglement happens.

This page was last updated on 23.05.24.

Interested in how this and other measures could mitigate bycatch in your fishery? Get in touch with us to collaborate or take part in a study.



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