9 Most Wasteful Fisheries in the U.S. Revealed

Fishing vessels operating off the coasts of Florida and California and in the Gulf of Mexico routinely dump more fish overboard than they bring to shore, a new report said on Thursday.

Half of all the wasted fish and seafood can be traced to just nine fisheries, operating off the coasts of Alaska, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the north-east.

The fisheries between them also kill and injure hundreds of thousands of sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins every year, said the report, Wasted Catch, from the Oceana conservation group.

But they account for only 7% of the fish and seafood that is brought to port for sale.

“This is a tiny slice of America’s fishing industry,” said Dominique Cano-Stocco, campaign director for Oceana. But she added: “They produce an enormous amount of waste for the small percentage that they have of total US fisheries.”

Such by-catch - the technical term for unwanted fish or marine life that get caught up in trawlers, gill nets and longlines - is dangerously depleting the ocean of fish stocks, and could jeopardise global food supply.

As much as 40%, or 63 billion pounds (28bn kg), of the 160bn pounds (lbs) of fish caught globally every year are discarded. Scientists estimate as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals were also killed every year by fishing vessels.

The American fishing industry has made improvements over the years in moving towards more sustainable fishing.

Lee Benaka, who oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) efforts to reduce by-catch, conceded that waste remained a problem.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"full","fid":"568116","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-left","height":"480","style":"width: 356px; height: 480px; margin-left: 4px; margin-right: 4px; float: left;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"356"}}]]

“By-catch levels when they are too high prevent fisheries from rebuilding from overfished status. They prevent protection of endangered species,” he said. But he said the agency was working with fisheries to adopt more selective fishing gear to help reduce by-catch.

“You are seeing an overall decrease in by-catch and overall the signs are somewhat positive over a five year period that fish by-catch is decreasing due to management measures that have been put in place, said

By NOAA’s estimates the rate of by-catch across America’s 240 or so fisheries was about 17% in 2005, with 1.22bn lbs of waste for 6.07bn lbs of landed fish. Data for 2010 suggests a drop both in the fish catch as well as the rate of waste, he said. Some 607m pounds of fish was dumped at sea, compared to a catch of 4.79bn lbs.

But the hold-outs, the nine fisheries identified by Oceana, continued to use equipment that imposes destructive side-effects on the ocean and marine life, the report said

Off the Florida coast, vessels using long lines to catch snapper and grouper routinely throw overboard 66% of their catch. Boats operating in the area captured and threw overboard 400,000 sharks just in 2010.

Vessels using gill nets to fish for halibut off the coast of California also had high levels of waste, throwing back 65% of their catch - because it was too small, or the wrong species. Industry vessels killed 30,000 sharks and rays over a three-year period, the report found.

Some of the waste involves valuable fish such as cod and halibut. Fishing fleets operating in the Gulf of Alaska threw 5 million lbs of cod and 2 million lbs of halibut overboard one year, the study found.

The report blamed the waste on indiscriminate fishing gear: 160ft wide nets that are dragged along the seafloor or through the water scooping up everything in their path, or 50-mile fishing lines studded with thousands of baited hooks.

The report was deeply critical of the federal government’s record in reducing such waste, saying the National Marine Fisheries Service “usually fails” at even such basic tasks as maintaining accurate and up-to-date catch estimates.

“There is a huge gap in information,” Cano-Stocco said. “Nobody is getting the information they need – fisheries to help with their plans, and conservationists to help protect whales and other species.”

Benaka said compiling reports from more than 200 fisheries took time. “There are huge fisheries out there,” he said.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.