Bycatch is the incidental capture of non-target species such as dolphins, porpoises & whales by various fisheries, and is a major threat to marine wildlife in the oceans today.

Fishing gear including gill nets, long lines and creel lines is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of cetaceans each year.

‘Ghost nets’, (fishing nets left or lost in the ocean) that can stretch for many miles in the water, also cause indiscriminate deaths of all sizes of cetaceans and are responsible for damage to the marine environment on a massive scale. Larger whales that break free from ghost nets can later suffer injury, disease and even starve to death if gear becomes wrapped around or embedded in their mouth. The number of marine mammals found entangled could be reduced dramatically if the fishing industry made one simple adjustment – use slightly weaker ropes.

harbour porpoise bycatchAlthough efforts to reduce bycatch have been made it is still a problem in all of our oceans and seas and threatens the survival of many species. For example, more than 70% of the North Atlantic right whale population bears scars from past fishing gear entanglements. Gill nets are pushing populations to the brink, with the world’s smallest porpoise, the Vaquita in the Gulf of California (less than 100 remaining) and world’s smallest dolphin, the Maui’s in New Zealand (less than 50 remaining) both threatened with extinction, with numbers declining rapidly year on year.

Entangled Humpback Photo E. Lyman_HWS and NOAAUrgent national and international action is needed as several species and many populations will be lost in the next few decades if these deaths continue.  Governments, businesses, scientists and NGOs around the world are working to address these issues, undertake research, develop new/innovative fishing gear and methods that reduce the threat of bycatch whilst allowing fisheries to remain active.

But it’s not just up to them – consumers play a major role. Be an ethical shopper – what you choose really does matter. If you choose to eat fish and/or seafood, always ask how/where it was sourced from and caught and only buy 100% handline caught skipjack tuna. Everyone should make an informed choice over the fish and seafood they eat by only purchasing products from a sustainable, well managed source. By putting pressure on retailers to sell only sustainably harvested fish and seafood products, demand for this will increase and provide an incentive for the industry to fish responsibly to ensure a safer ocean for dolphins, whales and all other marine life.

Photo Credits: Main Pic – DjohndwilliamsUK, Large Dolphin – M Gavet, Whale/net – ELyman (NOAA), Porpoise – G Cresswell, Maui’s dolphin – B Mass (Dolphin SOS)

Facing Extinction