Bycatch Fish and Animals Caught and Wasted
Overfishing - There's a Limit to Fish in the Sea
Worldwide, fisheries throw away 25% of their catch
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, one in four animals caught in fishing gear dies as bycatch—unwanted or unintentional catch. Tons of fish are tossed out, dead or dying, because they're not the kind the fishermen wanted to catch. The discarded animals may have no market value, or there may be no room on the boat to bring them to shore. Or the bycatch may be a marketable species, but too small to sell. Sometimes, fish are discarded because the fishermen lack the proper permits to land them. Dolphins, sea turtles, seals and whales all get caught by accident in fishing gear and drown. Seabirds, including endangered albatrosses, drown when they snatch baited hooks and are pulled under water.
Bycatch hurts us all
Sharks, swordfish and red snapper are just a few of the fishes harmed by accidental kills. Bycatch often takes young fish that could rebuild depleted populations if they were allowed to grow up and breed.
The animals we catch and throw away have important roles to play in marine food webs. By killing these animals, we're taking food away from tunas, salmon, swordfish, dolphins, sea lions and other ocean wildlife.
You made a difference to dolphins!
Consumer pressure works. The U.S. and Europe are the biggest markets for canned tuna. But when hundreds of thousands of dolphins died as bycatch in purse seine nets, concerned consumers forced the tuna industry to change. Unfortunately, some "dolphin-safe" fishing methods are not safe for sea turtles, sharks, wahoo, mahi-mahi and young tunas. These animals, and many others, die at staggering rates now that purse seiners are working to avoid dolphins.
Bycatch - Solutions Solving the Problem
We're learning to catch with care
Fishermen truly don't want to haul in bycatch—it wastes their time, wears out their gear, and can be costly if consumers object to the kill. Around the world, fishermen are working with scientists to reduce wasted catch.
The way we fish makes a difference
Some fishing methods are selective and take little bycatch; other ways of fishing take a heavy toll. Catching shrimp in trawl nets can kill up to 10 pounds of other animals for each pound of shrimp. New devices, like the Nordmore grate, are helping to reduce bycatch in some shrimp trawl fisheries. Even better, catching shrimp in traps lets fishermen release 98% of unwanted animals alive. That's why you'll find trap-caught shrimp on our Best Choices list.
Trap doors save turtles
Sea turtles were drowning in shrimp trawls across the world's tropical oceans, and people wanted that to change. U.S. fishermen invented the Turtle Excluder Device, or TED—a trap door in the net that lets turtles swim free. TEDs are now required on U.S. shrimp boats, and the U.S. bans imports of shrimp from countries that don't require TEDs.
Pingers protect porpoises
Fishermen off New England found a way to warn whales and porpoises away from their nets: electronic beepers, or "pingers." The pingers make a sound under water, which helps sea mammals avoid the net. Since January 1999, pingers have been required on gillnets in the Gulf of Maine to reduce accidental kill of harbor porpoises.
Longlining gets better for birds
Longliners in many areas now rig special lines to scare away endangered albatrosses and other seabirds. Other longliners fish at night, when birds aren't active. Scandinavian longliners are using gear that reels out the baited hooks under water, where birds can't grab them. Near Hawaii, longliners now dye their bait blue, so birds can't spot it easily.
Management can change to reduce bycatch
Today, many fisheries manage the entire fishing fleet as a unit. If the total amount of wasted catch goes over the limit, all boats in the fleet must stop fishing. Many in the industry feel this punishes careful fishermen, holding them responsible for others who waste a lot of catch. One option is "vessel bycatch allowances," which set limits for individual boats. This gives each captain the maximum incentive to "fish clean." In the eastern tropical Pacific, tuna boats use this system to cut down on wasted catch.
Information courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium. Visit their site. www.montereybayaquarium.org