Learning to Catch with Care
Turtle caught in fishing net (Photo © Norbert Wu/Minden Pictures/National Geographic Stock)

Many fisheries around the world throw away more fish than they keep. Some of the biggest offenders are shrimp fisheries. In the worst cases, for every pound of shrimp caught, up to six pounds of other species are discarded. And this incidental catch of unwanted or unsellable species, known as "bycatch," doesn't just include fish—turtles, seabirds and other animals also suffer.

Most Fishing Gear Isn't Finicky

Bycatch is often caused by less selective fishing gear like longlines or bottom trawls. Longlines have baited hooks and can extend for 50 miles or more. When cast out and left to "soak," longlines attract anything that swims by, from sharks to sea turtles. Bottom trawls drag nets across the seafloor, catching everything in their paths.

In contrast, gear like hook-and-line fishing can limit bycatch, because fishermen can quickly release unwanted catch from their hooks since lines are generally reeled in soon after a fish takes the bait.

The Effects of Bycatch

Nearly 20 percent of shark species are threatened with extinction, primarily as a result of being caught accidentally on longlines. Bycatch also includes young fish that could rebuild populations if they were allowed to grow and breed.

But It's Not Just Fish

Despite declines in recent years, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals, including whales, dolphins and porpoises, die as bycatch. As many as 200,000 loggerhead sea turtles and 50,000 leatherback sea turtles are caught annually. Longline fishing also kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds when they become entangled in driftnets or caught on longline hooks when they dive for bait.

Fishermen Don't Like Bycatch, Either

Fishermen truly don't want to haul in bycatch—it wastes their time and wears out their gear. Boats need to be outfitted with more selective gear to reduce this waste, and to help preserve our oceans. Cost-effective "streamer lines" are dramatically reducing seabird deaths in the Pacific halibut longline fishery.
What You Can Do

Smart Seafood Choices
Make smart shrimp choices
Shrimp is the most popular seafood item in the U.S., but also produces some of the highest levels of bycatch. Some sources are more sustainable than others.
Learn more about which shrimp to buy

Smart Seafood Choices
Use our pocket guides
Seafood Watch pocket guides help you select seafood that is caught or farmed in ways that help promote healthy oceans. Choose from the green, "Best Choice" column. Otherwise, try a yellow "Good Alternative."
Download or print a pocket guide

Learn more about Wild Seafood Issues: