The U.S. Throws Out $1 Billion Worth of Unwanted Fish Every Year

Fisheries across the country chuck millions of dollars worth of scallops, halibut, red snapper, and other fish annually.

National Journal
Marina Koren
June 27, 2014, 9:44 a.m.

Not all of the mar­ine creatures that fish­er­men trap in their nets end up on your plate. Amer­ic­an fish­er­ies dis­card about 20 bil­lion pounds of the fish they catch every year.

That’s roughly 20 per­cent of their total haul. It’s also worth at least $1 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased Thursday by Oceana, an ocean-con­ser­va­tion ad­vocacy group.

Dis­carded mar­ine bounty is known as bycatch — fish or oth­er mar­ine spe­cies, such as turtles and crabs, that are un­in­ten­tion­ally caught in fish­er­men’s nets meant for cer­tain oth­er kinds and sizes of fish. Bycatch is either brought to port and thrown out there, or tossed over­board while the fish­ing ves­sel is still at sea.

The re­port es­tim­ated the value of un­wanted fish if they had been sold rather than tossed us­ing data from the Na­tion­al Mar­ine Fish­er­ies Ser­vice’s Na­tion­al Bycatch Re­port and fish­ing-ves­sel in­form­a­tion from the Na­tion­al Ocean­ic and At­mo­spher­ic Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The Oceana re­port re­cog­nizes that fish­er­ies throw out some of their catch for good reas­on. Some­times, fish don’t meet cer­tain reg­u­la­tions, may be poor qual­ity, or have little to no mar­ket value. But Oceana and oth­er con­ser­va­tion groups say that many fish­er­ies toss out more than they keep. This makes it tough­er for fish pop­u­la­tions to re­bound, and so they stead­ily de­cline as fish­ing keeps up.

In its re­port, Oceana es­tim­ated the value of cer­tain kinds of fish us­ing the volume dis­card and the mar­ket price of a spe­cif­ic spe­cies. In the South­east U.S. in 2010, fish­er­ies tossed out $45 mil­lion in sea trout, $27 mil­lion in red snap­per, $4.2 mil­lion in king mack­er­el, and $3.4 mil­lion in bluefin tuna. Every year, fish­er­ies in the New Eng­land and the Mid-At­lantic re­gion chuck more than $20 mil­lion in sea scal­lops, $13.5 mil­lion in flounder, and $7 mil­lion in monk­fish. In Alaska, fish­er­men throw out Pa­cific halibut, cod, and snow and red king crabs when they don’t have to meet catch quotas for those spe­cies. In Cali­for­nia, Ore­gon, and Wash­ing­ton, fish­er­ies reg­u­larly toss spiny lob­ster, rock­fish, and sea bass.

Re­search­ers have long ar­gued that bycatch is a chron­ic prob­lem with eco­nom­ic con­sequences for both na­tion­al and glob­al fish­ing in­dus­tries. In 1994, the Food and Ag­ri­cul­ture Or­gan­iz­a­tion found that bycatch was cost­ing the U.S. fish­ing in­dustry bil­lions of dol­lars. In 2009, the World Bank de­term­ined that bycatch mis­man­age­ment and over­fish­ing cost the glob­al eco­nomy $50 bil­lion every year.

Now that’s a lot of fish.

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