Bycatching is something I had heard of, but never put much thought into. Oceana describes bycatch as “collateral damage”, referring to all the untargeted underwater creatures that are captured accidentally by gear set for a particular fish or species. I don’t fish, so sometimes fishing issues take the backseat to issues that hit closer to home, but they shouldn’t! Bycatching is a huge problem everywhere, Canada included. Globally, 10.3 million tonnes of animals are deemed collateral damage. Sometimes this bycatch is brought back to shore and used or sold. Sometimes it is tossed back unharmed, but more often than not, the bycatch animal is tossed over the side of the boat, dead, dying, or injured.
It’s hard to determine exactly the impact bycatching has had in Canada as the data from fisheries reporting bycatch is hard to access and inconsistent. However, assessment reports available from Marine Stewardship Council certified fisheries show on average 48.4% of what is caught is non-targeted species, and therefore bycatch.
- Contributes to overfishing.
- Harms marine life and depletes the food supply.
- Economically costs the fishing industry, which leads to loss of jobs. A study done in 2013 revealed that $4.2 billion dollars worth of edible and sellable seafood is thrown out due to bycatching.
- Can lead to endangered species deaths, contributing to declining biodiversity. For example, an endangered humpback dolphin just died on May 5, 2021, in Alkantstrand, South Africa after getting caught in a shark net. This is only one incident of inevitably many more to come if bycatching is not reduced.
- Loss of an endangered or keystone species can have lasting effects on marine life, causing a chain reaction of deaths and depletion of resources.
Oceana’s 2017 report on bycatching suggests the following to reduce bycatches:
- Use of selective fishing gear such as harpoons or hand lines can be effective in reducing bycatch.
- Instead of using hydraulic dredges when harvesting clams, diving or using different tools such as rakes or tongs can be effective while protecting the habitat.
- Accountability; have fisheries consistently report their bycatch numbers and species.
- Have limits established for bycatch based on their population and the species at-risk status. To have this be effective, regulations should be made and outlined in a management plan.
An article written and published on the Nature Conservancy suggests:
- Modified hook and line gear.
- Cost-effective monitoring, including video surveys.
What you can do to help
- Educate yourself and others on the issue. Understanding the depth of bycatching can help bring about and inspire change.
- Support organizations that call for better bycatch management, nationally such as Oceana or internationally such as OceanWatch Australia.
- Email or send letters to government officials and raise your concerns. An increase in communities wanting to see sustainable fishing can help get regulations in place.
- Support fisheries that report their bycatch data and provide transparency, such as Marine Stewardship Council certified fisheries. Alternatively, fish your own supply of fish in a humane fashion.