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Learning to Catch with Care

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 the result of using less selective fishing gear like gillnets, longlines or bottom trawls. Longlines have baited hooks and can extend for 50 miles or more. When cast out and left to "soak," longlines and gillnets 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

More than 15 percent of shark species are threatened with extinction, in part as a result of being caught accidentally on longlines, trawls and purse seines. Bycatch also includes young fish that could rebuild populations if they were allowed to grow and breed.

But It's Not Just Fish

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. Fishing also kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds when they become entangled in gillnets, caught on longline hooks or interact with trawls.

Fishermen Don't Like Bycatch Either

Fishermen truly don't want to haul in bycatch—it wastes their time and damages their gear. Gear modifications, closed areas, and more selective fishing methods can help reduce this waste. Cost-effective "streamer lines" are dramatically reducing seabird deaths in the Pacific halibut and Patagonian toothfish longline fisheries.

What You Can Do

Make Smart Choices

Shrimp and tuna are the most popular seafood items in the U.S., but their capture can also have some of the greatest impacts on incidentally-caught animals. Some sources are more sustainable than others so check our recommendations before you buy.

Use Our Consumer Guides

Seafood Watch guides help you select seafood that is caught or farmed in ways that help promote a healthy ocean. Choose from the green "Best Choice" column. Otherwise, try a yellow "Good Alternative."

Brown pelican

Story of Hope

Cost-Effective Methods for Reducing Bycatch

Seabirds often flock around longline vessels and can become snared and drown as they try to feed on baited hooks thrown into the ocean. "Streamer lines" have proven to be a cost-effective solution that has dramatically reduced seabird deaths in several longline fisheries. Brightly colored streamer lines made of polyester rope are positioned on each side of the longline. The colors and the flapping of the lines scare seabirds away from the baited hooks.

From 1993 to 2001, roughly 16,000 seabirds died each year in Alaskan groundfish longline fisheries. In 2002, streamer lines became required gear; since then, the number of seabird deaths has decreased by approximately 70 percent.

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