Fish caught in net

Bycatch in the fishing industry

Recently I listened to a podcast of The Eyes on Conservation, by Julia Barnes. She interviewed Tom Campbell, who told his story on changes in the ocean through his personal experiences while diving. In let’s say the past 20 years, a lot of things have changed in the ocean. Not only the diving experience has changed, but also the fishery industry. Fishing is a source of food and money for many people on earth. It has been that way for many years, but the problem was never as big as now, as fishes were caught in such a way that the maximum number of fish didn’t exceed their reproduction rate. Populations could therefore easily survive. However, by the invention of fishing methods such as longlines, gillnets, and bottom trawling, fishing has gotten extremely out of hand.

Longlines for example are made out of one long line, with thousands of hooks attached. If someone is fishing for one type of fish, this method is of course not logical as you never know what might get stuck on your hooks. Non-target fish species that are caught are often thrown overboard. Besides that, sea birds prey on the caught fish, which results in the death of many sea birds as well. All this unwanted marine life is called bycatch. It can be defined as the incidental capture and mortality of non-target marine animals and unfortunately it is a serious threat to the survival of many species.


According to the numbers, at least 7,3 million tons of marine animals are caught by accident every year. In some fishing industries, the weight of bycatch can be four times as heavy as the weight of the actual target animal, which happens for example in shrimp fisheries. Bycatch can exist for many marine species, such as seabirds, seals, sea turtles, and cetaceans. To give you some examples; an estimate of 200.000 loggerhead turtles, 50.000 leatherback turtles, and 300.000 cetaceans are caught every year. All of this also with a negative effect on fishermen themselves. Bycatch causes damaged gear and reduced catch with economic problems as a result.

Luckily the urgency of this problem is becoming more clear to scientists, fishermen, and the general public, which has already resulted in some good initiatives to reduce bycatch. First of all, sustainable fisheries management requires monitoring of all the animals caught. Not only targeted species but also unwanted and therefore discarded species. It provides more insight into current fisheries and problems, which hopefully will result in lower quota and possibly the establishment of marine protected areas. However, monitoring the fishery industry it is not enough to reduce bycatch by itself.

Fish caught in net

To reduce bycatch effectively, the quota should be reduced and alternative fishing gear should be invented and used. The bycatch of sea birds on long lines has already been reduced in some places by the use of “streamer lines”. These are longlines with brightly colored polyester ropes on each side of the longline, to scare away seabirds from the hooks. To reduce sea turtle bycatch on longlines, circled hooks have been designed as an alternative for the so-called “J-shaped hooks”. This has already proven to reduce sea turtle bycatch significantly.

As a consumer of seafood, you also have a choice and voice in the fishery industry. For people living in America, a guide was created to make a sustainable choice when buying seafood. Here you can also find more information on several species of seafood, and if you want guides for sustainable restaurants, recipes, or fish species, visit this link. Sustainable fisheries, with the least amount of bycatch as possible, provide survival for many non-targeted animals. However, always be aware of the origin of your seafood. Was it wild-caught or farmed and was it locally produced or shipped across the world? There are many things to think about when buying seafood, but the more aware you become of bycatch and other problems in the fishery industry, the easier it becomes to make conscious choices. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send us a message and we will be happy to help.

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Article written by Manon Verijdt



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