Wherever there is fishing, there is bycatch. Globally, it is estimated that a quarter of what is caught is wasted – thrown back into the sea dead because it has no commercial value.
Fishing quotas mean that fishermen targeting a particular species or size of fish will throw back any ‘non-target’ or ‘too small’ fish that they catch.
Bycatch is not limited to unwanted fish species. All types of marine life including whales, dolphins, porpoises, fur seals, albatrosses and turtles are killed as bycatch. Even feared predators like sharks are killed in their millions each year.
Tuna fisheries are still responsible for the deaths of an estimated one million sharks annually. Estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die as bycatch each year, because they are unable to escape when caught in nets.
Thousands of miles of nets and lines are set in the World‘s oceans each day. Modern fishing gear, often undetectable by sight and extremely strong, is very efficient at catching the desired fish species – as well as anything else in its path. A staggering amount of marine life is hauled up with the catch, and then discarded overboard dead or dying.
Getting trapped in fishing gear is a horrific way to die. Like you, whales and dolphins can not breathe underwater. They panic and can endure terrible wounds and broken bones as they try to escape.
When they can not struggle any more, they close their blowhole and suffocate. Others carry gear with them for months to years as they slowly die from infections and starvation.
Fishing industry leaders increasingly realize the need to reduce this phenomenon. Proven solutions do exist, such as modifying fishing gear so that fewer non-target species are caught or can escape. In many cases, these modifications are simple and inexpensive, and often come from fishers themselves.
Despite new technologies and industry recognition of the issue, bycatch is still a major problem. Not only does it cause avoidable deaths and injuries, but the fishing methods can be harmful to the marine environments where they are employed.