WHAT'S YOUR BYCATCH?
What is bycatch?
Bycatch is best defined as the unintentional capture of non-target species. For example, a tuna fishery accidentally catches other marine life in the process of catching tuna. Those catches would be labeled as bycatch. These unintentional captures can include cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises and whales), sea turtles, sharks, rays, sea birds, other fish species, or even target species of the wrong size, such as juveniles who are too small to sell. The main problem is that many of these animals often die from entanglement and subsequent drowning or the trauma of capture. By-catch is one of the biggest threats to marine biodiversity and the overall health of our oceans.
What types of fishing methods have the most bycatch?
Many methods of modern commercial fishing are often non-selective to increase fishery efficiency. including long lining, bottom trawling and gill nets. All of which pose many threats to marine life and ecosystems.
LONG LINING involves hundreds of baited hooks hanging at intervals along a very strong, hard to see, synthetic fishing line placed in our oceans. These lines attract the fisherman’s desired species, but sea turtles, marine mammals, and non-target fish also get caught in the process. Once the by-catch victims are struck by long-liners, it is almost guaranteed deadly.
GILL NETS are nicknamed “walls of death”; a clear indicator of their detrimental impacts on marine life. This fishing method involves a large net wall that hangs vertically in the water. Floaters line the top of the net and weights line the bottom. This net is made up of the same synthetic, hard to see fibers mentioned with long lining. Therefore, bycatch is a major result. Sea turtles, marine mammals, and non-target species once again find themselves victim to irresponsible fishing methods.
BOTTOM TRAWLING involves dragging a large net across the bottom of the ocean, scooping up anything in its path. This includes marine life and marine habitats that take hundreds of years to rebuild.
What are the impacts?
Bycatch impacts all levels of marine life, either directly or indirectly, from macrofauna to apex predators presenting an immense danger to the future of ocean ecosystems.
Many of the animals being caught and killed are endangered. These species include leatherback turtles, New Zealand’s Maui dolphin, Mexico’s vaquitas, blue sharks, hammerhead sharks, mako sharks, great white sharks, tons of juvenile fish, multiple species of sea birds and coral reefs; just to name a few. Others are keystone species, playing vital roles in ecosystems to regulate and promote biodiversity. All of these species are extremely delicate and take years to replenish.
Are there any solutions?
Its not all doom and gloom as there are solutions and options available, some of which are already showing some success. Regarding fishing methods, turtle exclusion devices can be used as well as modified hooks on long lines. These have been successful when regulated and implemented correctly, as well as bird scaring devices on long lining ships.
There are also solutions that begin with consumers of seafood, so you yourself can be involved! The most effective solution is to reduce demand. Reducing the amount of seafood you consume or making educated decisions about the type of seafood available will reduce the amount of fishing occurring in the oceans.
Solving the multiple problems of by-catch and irresponsible fishing methods is beneficial to everyone and generations to come. Maintaining balance and allowing recovery of the populations will ensure a future for the fishing industry that may not be possible with current rates of fishing.
Think before you consume, help save our oceans.