Recent reports indicate that US fisheries throw back as much as one-fifth of what they catch back into the ocean. What is alarming is the fact that all of the catch thrown back dies in the process. This regular practice of almost nine fisheries is responsible for increasing exposure of marine life to disposed waste.
Unwanted animals thrown back into the ocean are known as bycatch. These include thousands of whales, sharks, dolphins, fishes that are not to be captured as part of commercial fishing. The situation was assessed by the non-profit group Oceana. Oceana is the largest ocean conservation organization that works on an international level. Founded in 2001, their main purpose is to preserve and protect the world’s ocean along with all the marine life in it. They usually achieve the goal through targeted policy campaigns.
Oceana observed that although great care is observed to avoid bycatch as much as possible, almost 22 percent of the catch still ends up being unwanted. Different methods pose different threats to marine life, experts believe that gillnet fisheries and open ocean trawl-among others- are most responsible for the discarded fish in the United States.
These reports also identified that nine fisheries across the country had a bigger role to play in polluting the world’s oceans and laying waste to the marine life. All of the companies mentioned use the same method mentioned and two of these were from the west coast.
California set gillnet fishery mainly focuses on the capture of white sea bass and California halibut. At a 65 percent discard rate most sea lions, sharks and other species of fish also get ensnared in the process. California drift gillnet fishery with a 63 percent discard rate focuses on swordfish and thresher sharks. Unfortunate and unsuspecting animals that get caught in the process include large whales, seals blue sharks and many other.
Others in the list include New England Mid Atlantic gillnet fishery with a discard rate of 16 percent. Among the animals captured where 2000 dolphins, and seals. Mid-Atlantic bottom trawl fishery with a discard rate of 33 percent were responsible for capturing 200 marine mammals and over 300 sea turtles. Gulf of Alaska trawl fishery, Northeast trawl, Southeast snapper grouper longline fishery had a discard rate of 35 percent, 35 percent and 66 percent respectively.
Many were surprised when Oregon’s fisheries were not included in the list. Fisheries in Oregon focus on the capture of small shrimps. They make use of a excluder grates that manage to capture the smaller shrimps while avoiding the bigger fishes. The method however does not account for the many eulachon smelts that get captured along with the shrimps. Eulachon smelts are endangered species with their numbers dwindling to dangerous lows every year.
Popular methods used by these fisheries are responsible for harming species that have already been classified as endangered. Many are even on the verge of falling to this status. Even though these fisheries make a habit of throwing back the unwanted species, most die in the process or are fatally injured. Oceana’s Pacific campaign manager Ben Enticknap said safer alternates have to be adopted to ensure that marine life is protected from the waste these fisheries dump back into the ocean. More importantly species that are not part of commercial fishing should be well protected and their numbers well-preserved.
By Hammad Ali