Friday, June 02, 2006

Wasteful Fishing, Heathful Fish

For every pound of shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico, more than four pounds of shrimp and other fish are thrown back (usually dead) by shrimp trawlers. For every pound of cod, haddock and other “groundfish” caught off New England, 1.8 pounds of other fish are thrown back, also usually dead. When it comes to conservation, the trawlers that catch shrimp in the Gulf and groundfish off New England are among the most wasteful in the U.S.

That conclusion, and many other statistics and observations, comes from a new report by the Marine Fish Conservation Network. Here’s what the report, called “Turning a Blind Eye: The ‘See No Evil’ Approach to Wasteful Fishing,” says about the so-called bycatch issue:

Fishermen often throw these organism overboard because they are either too small or have little or no economic value. In the majority if fisheries, however, most discards are mandatory; federal regulations require that bycatch be returned to the ocean, as unharmed as possible. This action is intended to prevent the wanton overexploitation and potential decimation of populations of fish and other marine life, including not only finfish, shellfish and crustaceans, but also birds, turtles and marine mammals. Unfortunately, bycatch restrictions are often not implemented or enforced, and even if they are, a high percentage of the fish and other species that are caught and returned to the ocean do not survive.

The report is here. The Narragansett Baykeeper blog says it points up the importance of reauthorizing the Magnusson/Stevens Act, which regulates bycatch.

And in case you didn’t see it, here’s what the New York Times (with an assist to Environmental Defense) says about fish that are safe to eat because of low levels of contaminants.


Blogger Sam said...

I don't know if more regulation is a good idea, although a quota system that includes by-catch might work. Let me give you an example from the Gulf of Mexico:

Here we have a longline/bandit boat. The target species is tilefish in deepwaters. So you set your lines and start catching ... red snapper. The red snapper "derby" isn't open so you have to throw the fish over the side because it is illegal to possess even one.

Most of the snapper have extended air bladders so one tries to pop it with a sharp spike or knife point, since no way is it going down with all that air. It sorta rolls sideways and tries to swim.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shark and Mrs. Dolphin have been waiting for the dinner bell, strategically positioned right under the boat and swimming in circles. Just as you see the snapper sink to about 15-20 feet there is a bright flash of a big white belly!

To catch $10,000 of tilefish you basically have to feed the predators $10,000 in by-catch. This is simply ludicrous, and is not something the fishermen want or desire. If I may be so bold, it is the bureaucrats who devised the rules in spite of common sense.

However, if the example fishing boat had a quota so he (or she) could keep the incidental snapper, to count against a historical use quota, such a waste of perfectly good fish would not have to occur.

I won't go into much detail on the shrimp industry, other than to say there's not much of one left, with the high fuel prices and "illegal dumping" from foreign imports, not to mention that Rita and Katrina wiped out 90 percent of the Louisiana fleet. I agree that trawl fishing (rather than hook and line) is terrible for juvenile fish stocks, but I don't relish the fact that an entire American industry is collapsing ... so we can eat shrimp from Vietnam and other countries that do 100 times more environmental destruction than us. Um, they EAT the turtles they catch! -Sam

2:57 PM  

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