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
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.
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."