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Sea Life
Fish Overboard

It’s a modern tragedy in the open sea: A fisherman pulls up his net or line, only to throw back dead or dying fish that don’t meet regulations. Each year, scientists estimate, more than a million metric tons of fish, or 28 percent of the entire commercial catch in the United States, is dumped overboard, according to a report from the international conservation organization Oceana. The biggest culprit: the shrimp industry in the Gulf of Mexico, which creates about 4.5 pounds of “bycatch”—fish and crustaceans that are discarded—for every pound of shrimp it brings in. “There’s been an incredible reluctance to regulate the effort,” says Ransom Myers, a professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and a coauthor of the report. “There’s too many fishermen fishing the same waters multiple times a year.” Unwanted fish, whether caught in the Atlantic with a bottom trawl or in the Pacific with a hook and line, are usually either juveniles or nontarget species, such as spiny dogfish. Technological advances and various incentives have actually improved the situation during the past few years, especially in Alaska, but bycatch continues to slow the recovery of certain species, including Atlantic halibut. “Alaska is more profitable than New England, and the difference is there was an early effort to control bycatch,” Myers says. To help solve the problem, Myers and coauthor Andrew Rosenberg, a University of New Hampshire professor, propose the government regularly report on bycatch statistics for U.S. fisheries. They would also like fishermen to come up with their own solutions. “Fishermen are the experts with fishing gear and fishing methods; it’s not people like me,” Rosenberg says. “But we’ve got to give them incentives and then reward the people who do it well and punish the people who don’t do it well.”
—Jesse Greenspan

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