GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 27, 2011

Study: 17 percent of fish landed as bycatch

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

A first national report by NOAA on bycatch — fish that are caught accidentally, then are not landed or used — has found that 17 percent of the fish caught commercially in 2005 were wasted.

In New England, the bycatch rate was 14 percent.

The 528-page report, motivated by statutory obligations set forth in the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, has been in preparation since 2006, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The figures are estimates, NOAA emphasized, but "the effort is the first to compile and collect regional data about U.S. commercial fisheries into one nationwide report."

"Fisheries managers, the fishing industry and the environmental community share the goal of preventing and reducing bycatch, which is an important part of ending overfishing and ensuring sustainable marine resources," said Richard Merrick, chief scientist at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"This report helps us understand the extent of bycatch in the U.S. and the quality of our data about bycatch," he said in a statement. "As we update this report, we will see improvements in data quality and will measure the progres we believe management measures and technologies are having in reducing bycatch."

The 17 percent estimate is significantly lower than earlier bycatch estimates — of 22 percent — by Oceana and and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The bycatch estimate for New England does not include protected species other than fish.

NOAA estimated that 266 Atlantic white-sided dolphins, 61 bottlenose dolphins, 151 common dolphins, 652 harbor porpoises, 65 pilot whales and 1,062 loggerhead turtles were also hauled up as bycatch in the Northeast region in 2005.

Among fish, 12 percent or 1,920,000 pounds of Atlantic cod; 7 percent or 1,190,000 pounds of haddock; 18 percent of or 9,100,000 pounds of monkfish, and 14 percent or 1,511,000 pounds of yellowtail flounder were bycaught in 2005.

New England's ecosystem of mixed groundfish has caused special efforts at reducing bycatch.

Among them cited by NOAA was the so-called Ruhle Trawl, which won the World Wildlife Fund SmartGear competition and is named for the noted and admired Ruhle fishing family, which invented a way of designing a trawl for haddock allowing non-targeted fish, especially cod, to escape from an exit loop.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.