Bycatch – a form of mass destruction


Bycatch are those organisms caught accidentally while one or more other species are targeted by the fishery. All fisheries have some unintended bycatch. This can be marginal when fishing with highly selective gear or very substantial, when gears used indiscriminately catch anything in their pathway.

Some facts:

  • Perhaps as much as 40% of marine organisms caught may be undesired bycatch, which often gets thrown overboard (discarded) dead or dying.

  • Bottom trawling is a fishing method for bottom dwelling animals, such as plaice, sole, other flatfish and shrimps producing massive bycatch. It means dragging a net over the sea floor, often with chains or rollers in front to get dug-in animals out of the ground and into the net or helping to hop over uneven ground without tearing the net up. Up to 80 even 90 percent bycatch have been recorded consisting of anything from baby fish of other species, corals, sponges, crabs, sea urchins and other organisms.

  • Not only is such a fishing method wasteful of all other marine bottom-dwelling animals, it also destroys the hard structures at the sea floor, which create habitat for a wealth of species and contribute to the richness and resilience of the entire ecosystem. This video on YouTube illustrates the point.

  • More than 300,000 dolphins and whales die every year drowned in fishing nets without being targeted.

  • The longline fisheries deploying up to 100 km long lines with 20,000 hooks. A quarter million of marine turtles threatened with extinction and an estimated 300,000 marine birds get killed every year through these fisheries.

  • The disappearance of almost 90% of hammerheads and 80% of white sharks in the Northeast Atlantic is attributed to bycatch.

  • 80% of plaice caught by trawling in the North Sea get thrown overboard as trash because fishers are not allowed to land bycatch of baby plaice.

  • Illegal drift nets off the coast of Morocco target sword fish but are also estimated to kill about 16,000 dolphin and 100,000 sharks.

  • Netting materials lost at sea or thrown overboard because of defects keep 'ghost fishing' and are, according to FAO estimates, a major cause for the mortality of whales, dolphins, sea birds, turtles and fish.

  • Some 'bycatch' may not be entirely accidental, as can be seen when fishing boats not having appropriate licences to fish valuable species take these 'non-target' species illegally.
  • As part of the reform of the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) agreed after years of consultation and debate in 2013, it has become illegal to discard bycatch at sea. However, many exceptions to the landing obligation at local and regional level are blowing holes into the implementation of the law and preventing true recording of the true impact of the fishery on marine resources.