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9 of the Dirtiest U.S. Fisheries Exposed
Today, Oceana released a new report exposing nine of the dirtiest fisheries in the U.S. These nine fisheries combined throw away almost half of what they catch and are responsible for more than 50 percent of all reported bycatch in the U.S., injuring and killing thousands of protected and endangered species every year.
In the report, Wasted Catch: Unsolved Bycatch Problems in U.S. Fisheries, Oceana explains that despite significant progress in the last decade, the catch of non-target fish and ocean wildlife, or “bycatch,” remains a significant problem in domestic fisheries. In fact, researchers have estimated that approximately 20 percent of the total U.S. catch is thrown away each year.
“Anything can be bycatch,” said Dominique Cano-Stocco, campaign director at Oceana. “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.”
Though some fishing methods are more harmful than others, researchers, fisheries managers and conservationists all agree that bycatch is generally highest in open ocean trawl, longline and gillnet fisheries. These three gear types alone are responsible for the majority of bycatch in the U.S. and are used by these nine dirty fisheries.
Below, is a slideshow featuring some of the National Marine Fisheries Service images of marine life injured and killed in drift gillnets off the coast of California, obtained by Oceana though a Freedom of Information Act request:
“Hundreds of thousands of dolphins, whales, sharks, sea birds, sea turtles and fish needlessly die each year as a result of indiscriminate fishing gear,” said Amanda Keledjian, report author and marine scientist at Oceana. “It’s no wonder that bycatch is such a significant problem, with trawls as wide as football fields, longlines extending up to 50 miles with thousands of baited hooks and gillnets up to two miles long. The good news is that there are solutions—bycatch is avoidable.”
Unfortunately, the bycatch problem in the U.S. is likely much worse than realized, because most fisheries do not have adequate monitoring in place to document exactly what and how much is caught and subsequently discarded. In some fisheries, as few as one in 100 fishing trips carry impartial observers to document catch, while many are not monitored at all, leading to large gaps in knowledge and poor quality data.
Nine Dirty Fisheries (based on data published by the National Marine Fisheries Service):
- Southeast Snapper-Grouper Longline Fishery (66 percent discarded)—More than 400,000 sharks were captured and discarded in one year
- California Set Gillnet Fishery (65 percent of all animals discarded)—More than 30,000 sharks and rays as well as valuable fish were discarded as waste over three years
- Southeast Shrimp Trawl Fishery (64 percent discarded)—For every pound of shrimp landed, 1 pound of billfish is discarded; thousands of sea turtles are killed annually
- California Drift Gillnet Fishery (63 percent of all animals discarded)—Almost 550 marine mammals were entangled or killed over five years
- Gulf of Alaska Flatfish Trawl Fishery (35 percent discarded)—More than 34 million pounds of fish were thrown overboard in one year, including 2 million pounds of halibut and 5 million pounds of cod
- Northeast Bottom Trawl (35 percent discarded)—More than 50 million pounds of fish are thrown overboard every year
- Mid-Atlantic Bottom Trawl Fishery (33 percent discarded)—Almost 200 marine mammals and 350 sea turtles were captured or killed in one year
- Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Longline Fishery (23 percent discarded)—More than 75 percent of the wasted fish in this fishery are valuable tuna, swordfish and other billfish targeted by the fishery
- New England and Mid-Atlantic Gillnet Fishery (16 percent discarded)—More than 2,000 dolphins, porpoises and seals were captured in one year
“Reducing bycatch is a win/win for fishermen and conservationists,” said Cano-Stocco. “By eliminating wasteful and harmful fishing practices we can restore and maintain fish populations that are essential to renewed abundance and healthy oceans, while also preventing the deaths of whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles.”
“The solution can be as simple as banning the use of drift gillnets, transitioning to proven cleaner fishing gears, requiring Turtle Excluder Devices in trawls, or avoiding bycatch hotspots,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California program director at Oceana. “Proven solutions and innovative management strategies can significantly reduce the unnecessary deaths of sharks, sea turtles, dolphins and other marine life, while maintaining vibrant fisheries.”
In order to reduce the amount of wasted catch and the number of marine animals killed in U.S. fisheries, Oceana is calling on the federal government to do three things:
1. COUNT everything that is caught in a fishery, including bycatch species.
2. CAP the amount of wasted catch in each fishery using scientifically based limits.
3. CONTROL and avoid bycatch by making improvements such as using cleaner fishing gear and enhanced monitoring.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
- Is California heading for another drought? - Los Angeles Times ›
- CA wildfire season: Will rain, snow weather forecast end risk? | The ... ›
- California Fires Now Rage All Year as Drought Creates Tinderbox ... ›
- California weather stays dry as rain and snow come up short | The ... ›
- California Emerged From Drought and Is Still Catching Fire - The ... ›
A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?