The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a new report this week detailing the catch and bycatch (or unintentional catch) of fisheries in the Northeast from July 2010 to June 2011. The report finds that approximately 156 million pounds of fish were discarded (or thrown back overboard), likely dead or dying, from North Carolina to Maine during this period. In fact, some trawl fisheries were found to discard more than half of their catch. Additionally, NMFS indicates that no information is being collected about bycatch in more than half of the fishing fleets in this region.
“If modern fisheries management is to succeed, we must account for every single fish that is caught, whether it’s done intentionally or not,” said Gib Brogan, Northeast representative at Oceana. “Without accurate data about what’s being brought to shore as well as wasted at sea, setting accurate catch limits is virtually impossible. It’s ludicrous that we know so little about the impact of our fisheries in the Northeast.”
This report comes as the New England Fishery Management Council continues to grapple with significant reductions in catch limits for the 2013 fishing year based on a new stock assessment for the historic groundfish fishery for cod, haddock and flounder. One of the underlying factors in these quota reductions is the missing or inaccurate data on bycatch, which can cause past catch levels to be overly optimistic while unknowingly depleting fisheries.
“156 million pounds of bycatch in the Northeast equals jobs lost and meals wasted,” said Brogan. “What is bycatch to one fishery is often targeted catch to another. Take skates for example, which are a common bycatch species in the lucrative scallop fishery. Nearly 75 percent of the 101 million pounds of skates that were caught were discarded while New England skate fishermen struggle to increase their quotas.”
Since its inception, Oceana has advocated for bycatch restrictions in U.S. fisheries as a way for managers to set catch limits for both targeted and non-targeted species. Oceana looks at the flounder bycatch limit used in the U.S. scallop fishery as well as the salmon bycatch limit in the Alaskan pollock fishery as models for controlling non-targeted catch while maximizing target catch potential.
“U.S. fishermen have the tools to fish within their limits, but fishery managers need to ensure that those limits account for every fish, because every fish counts,” said Brogan. “Ignoring more than 150 million pounds of dead fish will hamper the recovery of our fisheries to their full potential. Wasting 156 million pounds of fish is unacceptable.”