We’ve known that fisheries unintentionally kill a number of species and discard them, otherwise known as bycatch, but a new report from Oceana paints a startling picture of just how bad the problem is at U.S. fisheries that could make seafood less appetizing.
In the report, Wasted Catch: Unsolved Bycatch Problems, Oceana identified nine “dirty” fisheries in the U.S. with data from the Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and came to the shocking conclusion that bycatch in the U.S. “could amount to 2 billion pounds every year, equivalent to the entire annual catch of many other fishing nations around the world.”
According to Oceana, these nine fisheries combined throw away almost half of what they catch and are responsible for more than 50 percent of all reported bycatch in the U.S.
In just one year, the Southeast Snapper-Grouper Longline Fishery caught and discarded 400,000 sharks, while the New England and Mid-Atlantic Gillnet Fishery captured more than 2,000 dolphins, porpoises and seals.
More worrisome is that the numbers are believed to be at the low end because bycatch isn’t accurately monitored or reported.
Despite progress being made to reduce this problem, fishing practices continue to threaten marine life and protected species, while the three worst offenders continue to be trawling, which involves dragging nets along the ocean’s surface or floor, longline and gillnet fisheries, which involve setting out lines with baited hooks or leaving, or large walls of nets.
“Hundreds of thousands of dolphins, whales, sharks, sea birds, sea turtles and fish needlessly die each year as a result of indiscriminate fishing gear,” said Amanda Keledjian, report author and marine scientist at Oceana. “It’s no wonder that bycatch is such a significant problem, with trawls as wide as football fields, longlines extending up to 50 miles with thousands of baited hooks and gillnets up to two miles long. The good news is that there are solutions – bycatch is avoidable.”
The organization believes there is hope for addressing the needless killing and waste of marine life, which it believes would also be a win for fisheries.
“The solution can be as simple as banning the use of drift gillnets, transitioning to proven cleaner fishing gears, requiring Turtle Excluder Devices in trawls, or avoiding bycatch hotspots,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California program director at Oceana. “Proven solutions and innovative management strategies can significantly reduce the unnecessary deaths of sharks, sea turtles, dolphins and other marine life, while maintaining vibrant fisheries.”
Another step that could be taken includes increasing the number of impartial observers from the NMFS on board to document bycatch. As of now, an observer is only on board for an estimated one in 100 trips, while most are left unmonitored.
Oceana is now calling on the government to take three key steps to reduce bycatch, including counting everything fisheries catch, including bycatch species, capping the amount of wasted catch in each fishery using scientifically based limits and to control and avoid bycatch by making improvements, such as using cleaner fishing gear and enhanced monitoring.
Meanwhile, if you’re not willing to give up seafood, there are existing guidelines and recommendations that can help consumers choose seafood that’s being caught in the most sustainable manner possible.
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