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.
“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.
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.