Here at Take 3, we love everything to do with the oceans – the clue’s in our name! But there’s a lot that is unknown about the waters that cover more than 70% of the world’s surface. We don’t even know how many species live there, though it is estimated that over 90% of them remain unclassified. This isn’t surprising given that only 5% of the ocean has been explored by humans.
One topic that’s getting a lot of attention these days is bycatch. This is the accidental capture and subsequent death of non-target animals during fishing. This happens when animals such as dolphins, sea turtles and seabirds become hooked, trapped or entangled in fishing gear, and die as a result. Shockingly, at least 7 million tons of marine animals needlessly perish in this manner each year. In fact, in some instances, the amount of bycatch exceeds the amount of target fish caught!
Some people argue that bycatch is an unavoidable consequence of providing seafood for the world’s growing human population but the sheer number of animals that die for no reason in this way is threatening the very survival of some species. Clearly, something needs to be done.
7 million tons of marine animals die from bycatch every year
WHAT’S BEING DONE?
The good news is that the problem of bycatch has been recognized and lots of different solutions are being applied to reduce it. For example, researchers at the University of Exeter, UK looked at gillnets – nets that are designed to trap fish by their gills but that end up trapping a lot of other species too – and found that attaching small LED lights to the nets can reduce bycatch of sea turtles by 70%, and small cetaceans including dolphins and porpoises by 66%. This simple solution could soon be saving thousands of unnecessary deaths each year!
THE VICTIMS OF BYCATCH
Seabirds are often victims of bycatch too. Some species of fish are caught using fishing lines instead of nets, and it is estimated that over 300,000 birds are killed around the world each year after being caught on longline hooks. But action by fisheries is helping to reduce the death toll, sometimes in surprising simple ways. For example, deaths of the magnificent albatross in longline fisheries have been virtually eliminated by fishing only at night, when the birds are not foraging.
It’s not only birds that become the victims of longline hooks. Hundreds of thousands of loggerhead and leatherback turtles drown annually on longlines set for tuna and swordfish. However, these numbers have been reduced by almost 90% with the introduction of special ‘circle’ hooks that are far less likely to be ingested by turtles, while still effectively catching tuna and swordfish.
There are many other success stories just like these. All over the world, researchers and fisheries are experimenting with ways to reduce bycatch and minimize unnecessary deaths. But there’s still a long way to go before we eliminate bycatch altogether.
Hundreds of thousands of turtles drown annually on longlines
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP REDUCE BYCATCH?
- Learn which fisheries generate the most bycatch and avoid eating them.
- Support organisations such as WWF as they campaign to reduce bycatch.
- Reduce or eliminate seafood from your diet. If you must eat it, check out the sustainability of each species before you buy and only buy fish with the Marine Stewardship Council’s Blue Tick label .