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by Joan Reddy
Categories: Animals, Causes, Science.

According to a recent report by the largest international conservation organization, Oceana, consumers may be getting more than they asked for when buying fish at the supermarket, or dining at their local restaurant.

“When you buy fish at a local grocery store or restaurant, you might also be getting a side order of sea turtle or dolphin to go with it,” said Dominique Can-Stocco, Oceana’s campaign director, referring to the mass amount of dead sea creatures that are thrown overboard and wasted by fishermen each year. “Approximately 17-22 percent of what fishermen catch every year is discarded at sea, likely already dead or dying. Some fisheries discard more than they bring to port,” says Oceana’s report.

The discarded fish are referred to as “bycatch.” They are the catch of non-target fish and ocean wildlife, including what is brought to port and what is discarded at sea. “Bycatch is one of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. today,” Can-Stocco said. “It’s one of the largest threats to the proper management of our fisheries and to the health of our oceans and marine ecosystems,” she added.

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“Discarding large quantities of fish can lead to overfishing, prevent populations from recovering after decades of over exploitation, and disrupt the natural balance of marine ecosystems. Indeed, some valuable overfished populations are unable to recover because of persistent high levels of bycatch,” said Can-Stocco.

According to Oceana, “the extensive use of bottom trawls, and dredges used for commercial fishing cause more direct and avoidable damage to the ocean floor, than any other human activity in the world. Bottom trawls and dredges are so destructive they effectively clear-cut everything on the ocean floor. Trawls and dredges use large, heavy nets kept open by doors, weighing as much as several tons each, many of which drag across large areas of seafloor to catch fish that live on or near the ocean floor.”

Based on data published by the National Marine Fisheries Service, Oceana’s report has identified nine “dirty” fisheries that have some of the worst bycatch in the United States.  All of these fisheries in Oceana’s “worst-by-catch” list either use trawls, gillnets, or longlines (lines with baited hooks) to catch fish. “These three fishing gears are some of the world’s most unsustainable and destructive,” said Cano-Stocco. As a result, they injure and kill thousands of protected and endangered species every year. These nine fisheries are responsible for more than fifty percent of reported bycatch in the U.S. They only bring in seven percent of landings, and discard and waste, almost as much as they keep.

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Oceana strives to develop better management strategies to prevent the high level of unnecessary slaughter in our oceans. “Proven solutions and innovative management strategies can significally reduce the unnecessary deaths of sharks, sea turtles, dolphins and other marine life, while maintaining vibrant fisheries,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California program director at Oceana.

Another faster and more productive alternative to prevent “bycatch,” is to stop fishing and leave the sea creatures alone. This will benefit both marine life, and the natural ecosystem. Also, consumers will no longer have to be concerned about whether dolphins, sea turtles, or other “bycatch,” are on their dinner plates.

About Joan Reddy

Joan Reddy is a professional photographer, writer, animal rights activist, and environmentalist. Joan holds a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Toronto, and a Masters of Environmental Studies from York University, in Toronto, where her thesis focused on Animal Rights. Through her writing, Joan wants to help to educate the public about the way animals are abused and exploited, in cultures around the world. Joan is also founder and president of the Federal registered non-profit organization "International Communication for Animal Justice." Her organization's website can be found at www.internationalcommunicationforanimaljustice.org, and her professional profile on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/pub/joan-reddy/22/999/449.

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  • chris

    There are many threats and challenges facing the fishing industry. Here in Homer, AK it is often a discussion talked about passionately. I would say bycatch is one of the smaller concerns as the biomass is still being retained into the water and ecosystem.

  • James

    The problem is that the government does not allow the catch of so many fish types or that there can only be a certain quantity brought in so the fishermen have nothing to do but toss them over board. good job government on that one. Also a good thing to note is that local fisherman are not stupid and do not go to spawning areas during spawning time (job security) or target fish they know are repopulating (having bigger wholes in nets so young can get through and grow to full maturity so they can spawn is just one thing they do) the biggest problem are the fishing vessels coming from other countries that don’t give a rats a$$ and pull everything up with no thought of the environment. This article is a great example of someone talking out their a$$ without knowing the whole situation.

  • thecrud

    All they have to do is take this catch into account when making regulations.
    That might mean less fish total can be caught. unless they find a way to fix it.

  • say_what?

    Can you please explain the title: ‘Bycatch’ Is Likely On Your Dinner Plate

    How can it be on my dinner plate if it’s thrown away?

    One of your sources is quoted with saying “When you buy fish at a local grocery store or restaurant, you might also be getting a side order of sea turtle or dolphin to go with it,”

    But then it’s immediately followed with: ““Approximately 17-22 percent of what fishermen catch every year is discarded at sea”

    “…discarded at sea”. So that means they never bring “bycatch” back to the dock, so how can it end up in our food?

    • cheeseit!

      good catch

    • cheeseit!

      I’m assuming they meant that metaphorically. As in, the fish you’re eating got to your plate at the expense of the lives of a few sea turtles, dolphins, and other marine wildlife.

  • Fr0ntSight

    trawling and dredging should be illegal. You should only be able to fish by line and hook, or spearfishing.

  • cfbcfb

    Since roughly half the people on earth depend on food from the ocean, discontinuing fishing isn’t much of an option unless you’re prepared to watch half the worlds population die in under a month. As with many things, the big problem we have is about 2-3x too many people. A problem that will continue to get larger while we run around fixing the symptoms like overfishing, pollution and global warming.