Every year, the U.S. fishing industry throws about 2 billion pounds worth of fish back into the water. A report released today by Oceanea, an international ocean conservation organization, estimates that this amounts to 1 billion dollars lost a year. This does not include worldwide costs.
For an industry that represents 82 billion dollars in the U.S. economy, this is a big problem. Currently, the fishing industry offers 1.2 million jobs, but the money lost through bycatch could mean as much as 60,000 fewer jobs per year.
“We’re really hoping that this project in particular brings economics a little bit more into the discussion about making fishery management decisions,” Amanda Keledjian, a marine scientist and co-author of the report, told TreeHugger. “Often-times the cost of making a change will be well documented, but there’s not always a study accompanied by what the cost of keeping the status quo is.”
And the numbers, though a conservative estimate, are staggering. Every year, 58.7 million dollars’ worth of halibut ‘bycatch’ is thrown back into the ocean. 45.5 million dollars of sea trout goes overboard too.
Fishermen throw away their unwanted bycatch for multiple reasons. Sometimes regulations prohibit fishermen from keeping the fish, other times the fish are of poor quality or will not fetch good prices in the market. But by the time the fish are dumped back into the ocean, they are often dead or dying, so their dumping does not have any ecological benefit.
“That waste and that additional mortality can really undermine the hard work that fishery managers and fishermen are doing to help the stocks recover,” said Keledjian.
Large quantities of bycatch can also take a lot of time to get rid of and result in damage to equipment when fishermen are forced to cut entangled marine animals out of their netting.
Luckily, there are ways of trying to diminish the amount of bycatch caught by the U.S. fishing industry. The report suggests a combination of enforcing data collection on the amount of bycatch, putting stronger limits on how much can be caught and taxing anything over the limit, and improving the equipment fisheries use for catching fish.
Most fishing boats have external observers who document what the boat is catching and throwing back in. These observers have proven an effective way to discourage fishermen from fabricating their catches and losses. Better and more selective equipment could also help prevent unwanted species from being caught.
Making concerted efforts to reduce bycatch waste could slow down the rate at which the oceans are being depleted. It may even extend the 2050 estimate for the end of the fishing industry. Understanding economic costs may be the best way to encourage serious action.
“Taking it down to be applied at the fishery level would be really useful,” said Kaledjian. “Fishermen are not in the business of throwing away fish.”