The U.S. fishing industry is one of the largest in the world. However, commercial fishing does have a number of pitfalls. One of the most wasteful elements of commercial fishing involves bycatch. Bycatch refers to the marine animals unintentionally caught during the process of commercial fishing. Certain sectors of the fishing industry focus on specific types of marine animals. Certain companies specialize in catching tuna while others focus on catching crabs. However, it is almost impossible for a tuna fishing boat to bring in a catch composed of 100 percent tuna. Other marine animals are often unintentionally caught and discarded.
Oceana’s latest report indicates that nine American fisheries are responsible for 50 percent of all bycatch in the country. The biggest problem is that bycatch is often discarded causing billions of pounds of seafood to be wasted. Moreover, thousands of endangered marine animals are also killed or injured in the process. “Anything can be bycatch,” said Oceana campaign director Dominique Cano-Stocco. “Whether it’s the thousands of sea turtles that are caught to bring you shrimp or the millions of pounds of cod and halibut that are thrown overboard after fishermen have reached their quota, bycatch is a waste of our ocean’s resources. Bycatch also represents a real economic loss when one fisherman trashes another fisherman’s catch.”
While different fishing methods have differing effects on the environment, bycatch is still a difficult problem to solve. The issue is particularly prevalent in open ocean trawlers, gillnet fishing and longline fishing. Oceana’s report shows that these three fishing methods are the main causes behind a large percentage of bycatch.
“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 Oceana marine scientist Amanda Keledjian. “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.” Keledjian is also the author of the Oceana report.
The nine dirty fisheries included in Oceana’s report include the Southeast Snapper-Grouper Longline Fishery, the California Set Gillnet Fishery, the Southeast Shrimp Trawl Fishery, the California Drift Gillnet Fishery, the Gulf of Alaska Flatfish Trawl Fishery, the Northeast Bottom Trawl, the Mid-Atlantic Bottom Trawl Fishery, the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Longline Fishery, and the New England and Mid-Atlantic Gillnet Fishery.
“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 Oceana California program director Geoff Shester. “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.”
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