Gulf shrimpers and deep-ocean trawlers toss over millions of tons of fish
by Craig Weatherby
Last week, nationwide headlines alerted many to the catastrophic waste of millions of tons seafood in some fisheries.
Most commercial fishing boats set out to catch certain species, and any unwanted fish that appear in their nets are called “bycatch.” These fish are thrown back, with very few surviving the experience.
The results of the peer-reviewed study included the finding that commercial fishing boats working US waters throw back more than 28 percent of their catch—1.1 million of every 4 million tons, almost all of it dead or dying fish—every year. The report appeared in the December issue of the journal “Fish and Fisheries.”
Shrimp boats working in the Gulf of Mexico rank as the worst offenders, throwing back about 60 percent of their catch. They net 114,000 tons of shrimp a year, but discard four times that weight in fish. In other words they, keep only 25 percent of what they net, with the rest going to waste!
Other fish, such as skates, monkfish, swordfish, tunas, sharks, and halibut, are trapped in huge trawling nets off the southeastern coastal areas.
Alaska found the least wasteful fishery
While the southeast led the nation in waste of fish, fisheries in the northwest—that is, in Alaska and the northern California—are far less wasteful.
To quote from the study, “Regionally, the southeast had the largest discard to landings ratio (0.59)… The Alaskan and west coast fisheries had the lowest ratios (0.12 and 0.15 respectively). Shrimp fisheries in the southeast were the major contributors to the high discard rate in that region, with discard ratios of 4.56 (Gulf of Mexico) and 2.95 (South Atlantic).”
The US Commerce Department responded that newer fishing gear and practices have cut bycatch by 50 percent in the Gulf shrimp fishery and by "substantial" margins in virtually all other U.S. fisheries, but much remains to be done given the disgraceful amount of waste, especially in America’s southeastern fisheries.
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- Harrington JM, Myers RA, Rosenberg AA. Wasted fishery resources: discarded by-catch in the USA. Fish and Fisheries. Volume 6, Issue 4 Page 350, December 2005. Accessed online December 2, 2005 at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-2979.2005.00201.x