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What is Bycatch?

By Michael Dautner, January 7, 2020

Tags: iNECTA Seafood

We at iNECTA work with various seafood catchers, traders and processors, so we thought it might be a good idea to discuss something that affects that industry a great deal. Bycatch might be something you can take an educated guess about regarding its definition.

Bycatch is an unfortunate circumstance that plagues the seafood industry, and it is a phenomenon that is constantly trying to be remedied within the community. Bycatch, in plain terms, is the incidental capture and death of non-target marine animals during fishing voyages. This has perilous implications on the species to which fall victim to this unfortunate circumstance. The fact of the matter is, regardless of how much success the seafood industry may have serving fish products to consumers, the byproduct of fishing is one of the principal threats to marine biodiversity. Full stop.

Fishing vessels typically have a specific species targeted during expeditions, but often times other species are swept up in the nets and lines in the process. The bait that is used for the targeted marine life often attracts unwanted animals, causing their death in the wake of the unintentional capture. The worst of these scenarios typically occur when the species affected is endangered. You might hear news stories regarding dolphins getting caught in a fishing net intended for tuna. This phenomenon usually sparks considerable outrage, and a call to action to reform fishing practices and procedures.

Despite efforts to do so, bycatch remains a big problem in all fisheries around the world. There is a great deal of debate about whether or not bycatch is a necessary evil of sorts. Does supplying the world with ocean-caught seafood constitute or justify the death of the victims of bycatch? It’s a tricky concept for sure. Some would argue that bycatch is so severe that it threatens entire species within their natural habitats. There are some pretty staggering statistics regarding bycatch that would make anyone reconsider their position in reference to the adverse effects of bycatch. According to one report, over 7 million tons of marine life are caught unintentionally. In some baffling reports, the bycatch actually outweighs the amount of the targeted species caught.

There are countless reports of terrible instances in which bycatch has decimated a specific species. One of the most glaring examples of this was the baiji porpoise that resided in the Yangtze River in China. One of the major reasons for the untimely extinction of the species is years and years of accidental hooking, and fatal entanglements within fishing nets. It’s not only porpoises either. Bycatch affects marine life small and large. Even some species of whale are caught in fishing lines, resulting in their death. The cost of bycatch also takes a toll on the fishermen themselves. Unintentional catches often result in damaged gear and tightening of fishing restrictions that ultimately hurt the fishermen economically.

But what are we really doing about it? What are we doing especially for those species affected by bycatch that are considered endangered? Methods and technology are being heavily tested to ensure less conflict between targeted species and untargeted species. Also, as we have discussed in the past as part of iNECTA’s research into the seafood industry, sustainable aquaculture promotion has had success in guiding companies towards a more eco-conscious approach. The aim is to keep fresh-catch fishing operations booming while avoiding practices that directly affect endangered species negatively. Finding common ground between the fishing industry and marine life activists has been a challenge. Talks will continue, and with luck, the industry will move forward with better methods that keep endangered species out of harm’s way


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