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The Bycatch Concern
Many fishermen catch fish other than the ones that they target – in many cases, these fish are simply thrown dead or dying back into the sea. This practice is known as “bycatching.” The problem? According to the World Wildlife Fund, “the single biggest threat facing cetaceans worldwide is death as bycatch in fishing gear.”
Fishing gear that poses the biggest dangers includes gillnets, set nets, trammel nets, seines, trawling nets and longlines. Each year, more whales, dolphins and porpoises die from entanglement in fishing gear than from any other cause. More than 85 per cent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits.
Researchers at Duke University and University of St. Andrews estimate the global annual average of nearly 308,000 bycatch-related deaths per year, or an estimated 1,000 per day! Collateral losses, known as discards, can reach up to 80 percent or even 90 per cent of the total catch. The annual average of discarded fish is estimated to be 7.3 million tons.
According to the Greenpeace website, “different types of fishing practices result in different animal/species being killed as bycatch. Nets kill dolphins, porpoises and whales, longline fishing kills birds, and bottom trawling devastates marine ecosystems.”
100 million sharks and rays are caught/discarded each year, and approximately 300,000 cetaceans (ie. whales, dolphins and porpoises) die from bycatch, each year. Large whales may break free, but can suffer long-term, debilitating injuries and slow deaths.
Trawl fisheries for shrimp and demersal finfish account for over 50 per cent of total estimated discards. Tropical shrimp trawl fisheries have the highest discard rate and account for over 27 per cent of total discards.
What Can I Do?
On a global level, there are effective ways to address the problems of bycatch: control fishing efforts and discontinue use of damaging fishing methods. Community efforts in favor of protecting essential habitats is paramount, along with various other monitoring and enforcement methods.
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