What percentage of all the marine life caught by industrial fishing operations ends up on our plate? Ninety percent? Seventy-five? Fifty? Not even close. Try just 10 percent.
The rest is simply discarded as bycatch — the unwanted fish and other marine creatures caught during commercial fishing operations. And we’re not just talking fish. The “other marine creatures” includes everything from whales and porpoises to turtles and albatrosses.
As this infographic depicts, a total of 600,000 cetaceans and seabirds alone — many of them threatened by extinction — are killed each year. According to the World Wildlife Fund, most bycatch is the result of indiscriminate fishing practices, such as trawling or the use of longlines and gillnets.
Can we just eliminate bycatch altogether? Not so easy, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
“If bycatch could be decreased at no cost, it would be neither complex nor contentious. However, the bycatch problem is complex. An action that is taken to reduce the bycatch of one species can increase that of another. Regulations put in place to reduce bycatch may also prevent fishermen from maximizing their catch of other species.”
But solutions do exist to dramatically reduce bycatch numbers.
The Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction, a group spearheaded by the New England Aquarium with partners Blue Water Fishermen’s Association, Duke University, Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the University of New Hampshire, has developed a comprehensive database featuring bycatch reduction studies and mitigation techniques.
Possible solutions listed include modifications to fishing gear to allow nontargeted species to escape or avoid capture, establishment of reserves in locations where threatened and endangered marine life are known to exist, and improvements in fisheries management to better enforce quotas and permits.
With an estimated 27 million metric tons of marine life discarded annually, any changes to current fishing techniques will have a meanginful impact.
Infographic by Will Hood of Hansell Design. Data sources include the National Oceanography Centre National Environment Research Council, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.