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Oceana reports of appalling waste of endangered fish in commercial bycatch

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A recent Oceana report revealed that an estimated 2 billion tons of bycatch fish and marine animals are needlessly caught every year resulting in their dead bodies being dumped back into the sea by commercial fisheries and trawlers only interested in harvesting a small percentage of what they find in their massive nets.

This lethal practice kills millions of endangered dolphins, sea turtles, whales, sharks, seals, rays and other endangered species that end up as “non-targeted” waste.

"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."

Oceana’s report identifies the top nine “dirtiest” fisheries:

  • Southeast Snapper-Grouper Longline Fishery (66% discarded) –More than 400,000 sharks were captured and discarded in one year
  • California Set Gillnet Fishery (65% 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% discarded) – For every pound of shrimp landed, 1 pound of billfish is discarded; thousands of sea turtles are killed annually
  • California Drift Gillnet Fishery (63% of all animals discarded) – Almost 550 marine mammals were entangled or killed over five years
  • Gulf of Alaska Flatfish Trawl Fishery (35% 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% discarded) – More than 50 million pounds of fish are thrown overboard every year
  • Mid-Atlantic Bottom Trawl Fishery (33% discarded) – Almost 200 marine mammals and 350 sea turtles were captured or killed in one year
  • Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Longline Fishery (23% discarded) – More than 75% 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% discarded) – More than 2,000 dolphins, porpoises and seals were captured in one year

The economic loss can be compared to the equivalent of 500 million seafood dinners per year.

Furthermore, one fisheries waste is another fisheries target product, so reducing the waste is a win/win for fisheries and endangered aquatic species.

“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.

According to a report in The Guardian on the issue, sustainable options recommended to reduce such horrific waste and to protect endangered marine mammals will be asked of the US federal government. They include a count of the total amount of all fish caught in commercial nets; a cap on wasted catch and greater improvements on fishing gear and enhanced monitoring of fishing activities.

Seeking and getting compliance is always the challenge.

Stepping over dollars to pick up dimes is a wasteful tactic no matter what species is involved, because in the end, far too often it is about profit not conservation.

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