The Dirty Truth About Some U.S. Fisheries

Written by on March 25, 2014 in Fish, Marine Life

Did you know that some fisheries in the United States discard more fish than they bring to port?

Bycatch found in gillnets.

Bycatch found in gillnets. Photo credit: USFWS Headquarters via photopin cc.

Despite management and conservation efforts, bycatch remains a serious problem for U.S. fisheries. According to the best available data, an estimated 17-22 percent of U.S. catch is discarded every year, totaling up to two billion pounds of bycatch.

What is bycatch?

“Anything can be bycatch,” Dominique Cano-Stocco, campaign director at Oceana, explained in a news release. “Whether it’s the thousands of sea turtles that are caught to bring you shrimp or the millions of pounds of cod and halibut that are thrown overboard after fishermen have reached their quota, bycatch is a waste of our ocean’s resources. Bycatch also represents a real economic loss when one fisherman trashes another fisherman’s catch.”

One of the biggest problems is that the severity and extent of bycatch in many fisheries remains unknown. Most fisheries are not sufficiently monitored so there’s no way to know what’s caught and what’s discarded. Some fisheries and fishing methods, however, are worse than others and a new report from Oceana identifies some of the worst ones.

The report, Wasted Catch: Unsolved Bycatch Problems in U.S. Fisheries, exposes nine of the ‘dirtiest’ fisheries in U.S. waters, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Together, the following fisheries are responsible for “more than half of all reported domestic bycatch,” yet they only account for seven percent of all fish brought to port.

  • Southeast Snapper-Grouper Longline Fishery – 66% of total catch discarded
  • California Set Gillnet Fishery – 65% discarded
  • Southeast Shrimp Trawl Fishery – 64% discarded
  • California Drift Gillnet Fishery – 63% discarded
  • Gulf of Alaska Flatfish Trawl Fishery – 35% discarded
  • Northeast Bottom Trawl – 35% discarded
  • Mid-Atlantic Bottom Trawl Fishery – 33% discarded
  • Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Longline Fishery – 23% discarded
  • New England and Mid-Atlantic Gillnet Fishery – 16% discarded

The good news is that there are solutions. Oceana is calling on the federal government to make some changes:

  1. Start counting everything that is caught in a fishery, target and non-target species alike.
  2. Use scientifically based limits to cap the amount of wasted catch in every fishery.
  3. Avoid bycatch altogether by using “cleaner fishing gear” and enhanced monitoring.
Discarding unwanted catch. Photo credit: Enrique Pardo, OCEANA.

Discarding unwanted catch. Photo credit: Enrique Pardo, OCEANA.

 To learn more:

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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