Last week, the New England Fishery Management Council took an important step forward for ocean conservation by agreeing to allocate $800,000 to support fishery research in the struggling groundfish fishery for cod, haddock and flounder. The Council has funds to support several projects and included bycatch reduction and solutions as themes in the call for research proposals.
This action comes only a month after Oceana released a report exposing nine of the dirtiest bycatch fisheries in the U.S., which included two New England fisheries—the Northeast Bottom Trawl and New England and Mid-Atlantic Gillnet fisheries, which discard 35 percent and 16 percent of what they catch, respectively. It is estimated that fisheries in the U.S. throw out almost 2 billion pounds every year due to bycatch, which is the equivalent of almost half a billion seafood meals.
Recommendations adopted by the Council include bycatch avoidance, like hotspot identification and management, and bycatch minimization through gear improvements, which were solutions Oceana had called for in the report. Additionally, in response to intense industry interest in fishing in areas currently closed, the Council included guidance to safeguard marine habitats in any research funded in this program. The Council has indicated that it is expecting to move quickly with the funding process and have three to four on-the-water research projects underway within the year.
Bycatch is a one of the largest threats to maintaining healthy fish populations and marine ecosystems around the world. The Council’s actions yesterday clearly show that fishery managers have listened to Oceana’s concerns and want to take action to decrease bycatch and address the problems Oceana exposed in our report.