According to the study, which is published on the Oceana website, the shrimping industry accounts for almost 50% of the total one billion plus pound annual by-catch. Interestingly, gillnets and purse seines account for less than 2% of the total by-catch annually.
While the study does examine and document by-catch, it also realistically indicates that some types and amounts of by-catch are unavoidable in some fisheries. It defines by-catch as any marine life other than the targeted species.
While some by-catch is released unharmed, the study indicates that the vast majority of by-catch is considered waste and is dumped overboard. In some cases local regulations prohibit any use of this by-catch, commercial or otherwise. In other cases, the by-catch can be and is legally utilized.
In all cases, juvenile fish and crustaceans are being captured or killed, reducing the future stocks of a number of smaller species low in the food chain. The reduction of stock of any species can and will lead to reductions in species further up the food chain, according to the study.
The study concludes that the commercial fishing industry has in many cases already instituted controls, restrictions and gear changes that help reduce by-catch. But, it also indicates that more work is needed to modify, redesign or in some cases eliminate some fishing gear to protect future fish stocks.
So, what does this mean for us everyday anglers? While commercial interests work to provide food for a nation, we work to find catchable fish for ourselves. Selfishly, I would miss the by-catch I buy or barter from local shrimpers that I use for chum, but reduction in that by-catch will ultimately lead to overall healthier stocks. On the other shoe, the huge numbers of breeding tripletail that become by-catch in shrimp trawls along the south Atlantic coast has got to stop!
We all need to work toward viable solutions we being both the commercial and recreational fishing industries. We can no longer afford to have the upper hand on one another in selfish attempts at controlling our individual destinies. To do so will assure the decimation of fish stocks all over the world.
Sure, eliminating commercial fishing might bring back healthy fish stocks, but lets face reality here! The commercial fishing industry literally feeds us! They are a valuable and needed part of todays society, from the 100 ton trawls right down to the local gill-netter catching fresh mullet.
The key to future food supplies from viable fish stocks is in the hands of each and every one of us. Commercial and recreational anglers alike need to put away their selfish motives and work together to insure the future of fishing. If we do that, we can all share a resource with a shared responsibility for conserving that resource.