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The real cost of your fish

March 28, 2014
tags:#Bycatch, #Fisheries
by:Itai Lahat
The next time you dine on fish know this: at least one to one and a half other sea life creature was damaged in the process of catching your fish.

The phenomena is called Bycatch and it includes sea organisms thrown back after being hauled up by nets, lines, and trawls, in the process of fishing. The scale of this have been revealed last week by a new report from Oceana, founded in 2001, it is the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation.

The new report suggests that every year one million ton of sea life captured by US fisheries is damaged or killed and thrown right back into the sea. Their detailed research exposes the nine worst by-catch fisheries around the country, and which harvesting methods are the most harmful to the environment.

But wait, there is more. In all of the most imperiled fisheries documented in the Oceana report, drift nets, longlines, and trawls were responsible for the greatest amount of by-catch. Many fisheries throw back more sea life than they retain for market, and a host of threatened animals become collateral damage in the quest for specific species. In the span between 2008 and 2012, California gillnet fisheries discarded as waste more than 30,000 sharks and rays as well as other valuable fish. All told, they tossed away almost 63 percent of what they brought onto the boat.

This horror, is not only an inhumane crime against living things, it is also a crime against the environment itself. Forget for a moment the harm inflicted upon protected species, the process of fishing with bycatch is undermining the healthy life cycle of the fisheries themselves, and in so, the one we enjoy today on our plate. According to some estimates, global bycatch may amount to 40 percent of the world’s catch, totaling 31.5 million ton per year. In the United States, despite strong management measures and conservation initiatives in some regions, bycatch remains a persistent problem for far too many fisheries. As the report shows, some fisheries discard more fish at sea than what they bring to port, in addition to injuring and killing thousands of whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles and sharks each year.

“One of the biggest concerns about bycatch”, states the report, “is that the severity of the problem in many regions and fisheries still remains unknown. The National Marine Fisheries Service rarely reports comprehensive bycatch data and in fact has not published a nationwide estimate using data more recent than 2005—and has no intention of updating its estimates until 2017. In short, bycatch harms ocean wildlife, wastes important food resources and undercuts the economic success of our nation’s fisheries”.

The report presents some extremely shocking numbers. For example, 650 thousand whales, dolphins and seals were killed around the world each year through the 1990’s as a result of bycatch. Or the fact that shrimp trawlers in the Gulf of Mexico to kill more than 50,000 sea turtles each year. How many is 50,000? That is almost 150 turtles per day. And that’s only in the Gulf of Mexico. So next time you order a shrimp cocktail or a grilled fish, think what else died in the process.

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Itai Lahat