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
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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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