An international conservation organization working to protect the world’s oceans is out with a report naming the nine dirtiest U.S. fisheries. The report says the equivalent of 1 billion seafood meals per year are being thrown back into the oceans. The list contained in the new report from the group Oceana addresses the “bycatch,” which is when ocean wildlife and non-targeted fish are brought up by fishing practices and then dumped back into the sea. The report entitled, “Wasted Catch: Unsolved Bycatch Problems in U.S. Fisheries,” says that, while there has been progress in the past decade, the bycatch still results in about 20 percent of the catch being thrown away each year. “Anything can be bycatch,” said Dominique Cano-Stocco, campaign director at Oceana. “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.” Fishing methods differ, although most involved in the issue believe that open-ocean long-line trawlers and gillnet fisheries do the most harm. “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 a marine scientist at Oceana. “It’s no wonder that bycatch is such a significant problem, with trawls as wide as football fields, long lines 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.” Unfortunately, the bycatch problem in the U.S. is likely much worse than realized because most fisheries do not have adequate monitoring in place to document exactly what and how much is caught and subsequently discarded. In some fisheries, as few as one in 100 fishing trips carry impartial observers to document the catch, while many are not monitored at all, leading to large gaps in knowledge and poor-quality data. Oceana claims that reducing the bycatch is a win-win for fishermen and conservationists because healthy oceans lead to renewed abundance while preventing the needless deaths of whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles. The “Nine Dirty U.S Fisheries” (based on data published by the National Marine Fisheries Service) are:
- Southeast Snapper-Grouper Long line Fishery (66 percent discarded) – More than 400,000 sharks were captured and discarded in one year.
- California Set Gillnet Fishery (65 percent of all animals discarded) – More than 30,000 sharks and rays, as well as valuable fish, were discarded as waste over three years.
- Southeast Shrimp Trawl Fishery (64 percent discarded) – For every pound of shrimp landed, one pound of billfish is discarded; thousands of sea turtles are killed annually.
- California Drift Gillnet Fishery (63 percent of all animals discarded) – Almost 550 marine mammals were entangled or killed over five years.
- Gulf of Alaska Flatfish Trawl Fishery (35 percent discarded) – More than 34 million pounds of fish were thrown overboard in one year, including 2 million pounds of halibut and 5 million pounds of cod.
- Northeast Bottom Trawl (35 percent discarded) – More than 50 million pounds of fish are thrown overboard every year.
- Mid-Atlantic Bottom Trawl Fishery (33 percent discarded) – Almost 200 marine mammals and 350 sea turtles were captured or killed in one year.
- Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Long line Fishery (23 percent discarded) – More than 75 percent of the wasted fish in this fishery are valuable tuna, swordfish and other billfish targeted by the fishery.
- New England and Mid-Atlantic Gillnet Fishery (16 percent discarded) – More than 2,000 dolphins, porpoises and seals were captured in one year.