WASHINGTON – Commercial fisheries in the U.S. kill a pound of fish for every four pounds intentionally caught, jeopardizing efforts to restore some struggling stocks, scientists said Wednesday.
A tally of the nation’s yearly unintentional “bycatch” – unwanted fish that are caught and, in most cases, die before being thrown overboard – was conducted by scientists Jennie Harrington, Andrew Rosenberg and Ransom Myers.
Their peer-reviewed study, sponsored by the environmental group Oceana and published in the December issue of Fish and Fisheries magazine, found that 1.1 million tons of fish annually are thrown away as dead with every 4 million tons caught in commercial nets.
“We can and should do better,” said Rosenberg, dean of the University of New Hampshire’s College of Life Sciences and Agriculture.
Most of the fish – such as skates, monkfish, swordfish, tunas, sharks, salmon and halibut – are snared by shrimpers’ nets in the Gulf of Mexico or in the huge trawling nets some vessels use to reach the ocean floor.
The Gulf’s shrimpers, for example, catch 114,000 tons of shrimp a year but discard four times that weight in snappers, mackerel, Atlantic croaker, crabs and porgies.
In response, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, part of the Commerce Department, said Wednesday that federal efforts to use newer fishing gear and ways of managing have cut bycatch by 50 percent in the Gulf shrimp fishery and by “substantial” margins in virtually all other U.S. fisheries.