As mentioned in our recently released Wasted Catch report, whales, dolphins, porpoises and other marine life are victims of bycatch, which is the catch of non-target fish and marine animals. Whales can become entangled in nets or trail fishing lines and gear that wraps around their fins, causing injuries and distress as the animals struggle to swim and reach the surface for air.
Several of the fisheries highlighted in Oceana’s report are responsible for marine mammal injuries or deaths. In the California Drift Gillnet Fishery, almost 550 marine mammals were entangled or killed over five years. Another heavy hitter is the New England and Mid-Atlantic Gillnet Fishery, which captures more than 2,000 dolphins, porpoises and seals in a single year.
Oceana commends NOAA for their efforts to help free these entangled animals. NOAA Fisheries works hard to detect and disentangle these animals. Partnering with several other agencies, NOAA Fisheries maintains a team of trained emergency responders that are responsible for freeing entangled marine mammals. These teams have helped save whales in Hawaii, Alaska, and the Atlantic. Recognizing the dangers fishing gear poses to threatened species, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, NOAA established the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network.
With the help of NOAA’s response teams and the continued move toward cleaner fishing practices, fewer whales and other marine mammals will suffer this fate. To help combat bycatch, Oceana is recommending that NOAA Fisheries count everything that is caught by fishermen, cap the amount of waste allowed in our fisheries and control and minimize bycatch through innovative fisheries management.
We applaud the hard work and dedication of NOAA employees, scientists, fishermen and everyday people around the nation who try to save marine animals from fishing gear entanglements. With a few smart changes in fishing practices and with increased observer coverage, we can reduce the harmful impact of bycatch in the future and improve the survival of the whales depicted in this inspiring NOAA Podcast.
If you come across an entangled marine animal, here’s how you can help. Call the NOAA emergency response team in your area.