Oceana Report on Bycatch Ignores Examples of Environmental Stewardship in Commercial Fishing

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A new report from environmental group Oceana slams US fisheries for allegedly wasteful bycatch, but a Saving Seafood analysis shows the report ignores industry efforts and successes in by-catch reduction and conservation efforts.

Several fisheries mentioned in Oceana’s report have already taken steps to reduce their bycatch.

Today, Oceana released a report and accompanying press release, Wasted Catch: Unsolved Bycatch Problems in U.S. Fisheries, which calls out nine U.S. fisheries for allegedly wasteful practices producing harmful levels of bycatch. But a Saving Seafood analysis shows that the report only tells half of the story. Bycatch remains one of the top concerns of U.S. fisheries management from coast to coast, and several prominent fisheries, aided by contributions from concerned members of the industry, government officials, and conservation groups, have made great strides in reducing bycatch and creating more sustainable marine resources.

The New England scallop fishery is one of the best examples of where collaborative efforts to reduce bycatch have yielded positive results. Since 2010, individual boat owners, as well as the Fisheries Survival Fund, which represents the majority of the full-time Limited Access scallop fleet, has partnered with the School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to create a program that helps vessels avoid one of the species most commonly caught as scallop bycatch, yellowtail flounder. The SMAST Yellowtail Bycatch Avoidance Program uses information provided by participating vessels to identify areas where yellowtail are sighted, and help the rest of the fleet avoid them. Almost 75 percent of the scallop fleet participates in the program, which the industry has helped fund since its inception. The scallop fishery has not exceeded its annual allocation of yellowtail flounder since the program began.

The scallop fishery also partnered with the Coonamessett Farm Foundation in Falmouth, Massachusetts to develop new scallop gear that prevents sea turtles from being caught and limiting the interactions between the turtles and the fishery. The resulting Turtle Deflector Devices have greatly reduced harmful interactions between turtles and scallop gear, and have won praise from several environmental groups, including Oceana (A Big Win for Sea Turtles in the Atlantic, Apr 10, 2012 by Rachael Prokop) Last year, the sea scallop fishery was certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

By nature, some fishing methods are more selective than others. Purse seine gear, for example, is highly effective at targeting schooling, pelagic species while producing little bycatch or harmful environmental impacts. Both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic menhaden fisheries, two of America’s largest purse seine fisheries by volume, have minimal bycatch. The Atlantic menhaden fishery has less than .3 percent bycatch, according to a 1994 study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The Gulf of Mexico menhaden fishery has bycatch rates ranging from .06 percent to 3.9 percent, according to The Louisiana Sportsman magazine (“Industry is Close to Perfect Fishery,” Sept. 4, 2013). These fisheries have independently taken additional measures to further prevent incidental catch, such as voluntarily installing large fish excluder devices and shark guards on menhaden nets, at a cost of over $1 million, according to Omega Protein Corporation.

Several fisheries mentioned in Oceana’s report have already taken steps to reduce their bycatch. The Atlantic long-line fishery, the nation’s leading source of swordfish, for example, has made the use of circle hooks, which reduce the likelihood that untargeted species will be caught, commonplace in the fishery, according to the Blue Water Fisherman’s Association. The Northeast gillnet groundfish fishery, under the leadership and financial commitment of the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund, has similarly taken measures to reduce interactions with marine mammals, with all nets required to feature acoustic devices meant to deter porpoises and other species.

About Saving Seafood:

Saving Seafood conducts media and public outreach on behalf of the seafood industry, as well as communications to keep industry members aware of issues and events of concern.Saving Seafood works with owners, captains, fishermen, seafood processors and brokers who are committed to the preservation of the resource that has provided their livelihood, and that of their American forebears, for generations.

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Bob Vanasse
Saving Seafood
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