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Oceana Report on Bycatch Ignores Examples of Environmental Stewardship in Commercial Fishing
Oceana released a report calling out nine U.S. fisheries for allegedly wasteful practices producing harmful levels of bycatch. But the report only tells half of the story.
 

WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) - March 20, 2014 - Today, Oceana released a report and accompanying press release, Wasted Catch: Unsolved Bycatch Problems in U.S. Fisheries, which calls out nine U.S. fisheries for allegedly wasteful practices producing harmful levels of bycatch. But the report only tells half of the story. Bycatch remains one of the top concerns of US fisheries management from coast to coast, and several prominent fisheries, aided by contributions from concerned members of the industry, government officials, and conservation groups, have made great strides in reducing bycatch and creating more sustainable marine resources.
 
The New England scallop fishery is one of the best examples of where collaborative efforts to reduce bycatch have yielded positive results. Since 2010, the fishery has partnered with the School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to avoid one of the species most commonly caught as scallop bycatch, yellowtail flounder. The SMAST Yellowtail Bycatch Avoidance Program uses information provided by participating vessels to identify areas where yellowtail are sighted, and help the rest of the fleet avoid them. Almost 75 percent of the scallop fleet participates in the program, which the industry has helped fund since its inception. The scallop fishery has not exceeded its annual allocation of yellowtail flounder since the program began.
 
The fishery also partnered with the Coonamessett Farm Foundation to develop new scallop gear that prevents sea turtles from being caught and limiting the interactions between the turtles and the fishery. The resulting Turtle Deflector Devices have greatly reduced harmful interactions between turtles and scallop gear, and have won praise from several environmental groups, including Oceana. Last year, the sea scallop fishery was certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.
 
By nature, some fishing methods are more selective than others, and their fisheries have been much more successful at avoiding bycatch. Purse seine gear, for example, is highly effective at targeting schooling, pelagic species while producing little bycatch or harmful environmental impacts. The Atlantic menhaden fishery has less than .3 percent bycatch, according to a 1994 study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The Gulf of Mexico menhaden fishery has bycatch rates ranging from .06% - 3.9%. These fisheries have independently taken additional measures to further prevent incidental catch, such as voluntarily installing large fish excluder devices and shark guards on menhaden nets, at a cost of over $1 million to the industry.
 
Several fisheries mentioned in Oceana's report have already taken steps to reduce their bycatch. The Atlantic long-line fishery, for example, has made the use of circle hooks, which reduce the likelihood that untargeted species will be caught, commonplace in the fishery. The Northeast gillnet fishery has also taken measures to reduce interactions with marine mammals, with all nets required to feature acoustic devices meant to deter porpoises and other species.

 

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