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U.S. Fishermen Throw Away 2 Billion Pounds Of Fish A Year

And we don’t have that many fish to begin with. A look at the most wasteful fisheries in the country–and how they can be fixed.

Trawler nets the size of football fields. 50-mile longlines. Gillnets two miles wide. These are the tools of the modern fishing trade, and the impact is indiscriminate. A lot of good fish reaches our tables. But a huge amount is also needlessly wasted, either discarded back overboard, or destroyed in-port.

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A new report from Oceana, a ocean conservation group, totals up the “bycatch” problem, and the numbers are fairly staggering. Between 17% and 22% of all fish caught in U.S. waters is surplus to requirements–up to 2 billion pounds in total. Some fisheries throw away more at sea than they bring to port. And, thousands of whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles, and sharks die in the bargain. In 2010, just two longline fisheries in the South East managed to kill 3,400 dusky sharks between them, Oceana says.


Below is an infographic summarizing the report, and naming the nine worst–as in most wasteful–fisheries in America. They include the Southeast Snapper-Grouper Longline Fishery (66% of fish discarded), the California Set Gillnet Fishery (65% discarded) and the Southeast Shrimp Trawl Fishery (64%). Together, the nine account for more than half of all bycatch reported to the National Marine Fisheries Service, though they actually bring in only 7% of landings.

Oceana is calling on the federal government to improve the counting at fisheries, including all unwanted catch. Part of the problem today, it says, is poor quality data: we don’t know the full extent of the problem. Second, it wants a cap on the amount of fish each fishery can waste. And, third, it wants less brutal fishing gear and better monitoring.

“Proven solutions and innovative management strategies can significantly reduce the unnecessary deaths of sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and other marine life, while maintaining vibrant fisheries,” says Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California program director, in a press release.

Here’s the full infographic:


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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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