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Oceana Report Sheds Light on Staggering by-Catch Problem in U.S. Fisheries

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That fish dish at your favorite neighborhood bistro may be hiding a gruesome secret.

"When you buy fish at a grocery store or restaurant, you might also be getting a side order of sea turtle or dolphin to go with it," said Dominique Cano-Stocco, Oceana's campaign director of responsible fishing, referring to the large number of dead sea creatures tossed by fishermen each year.

According to a new Oceana report, United States fisheries discard about 17 percent to 22 percent of everything they catch every year. That amounts to a whopping 2 billion pounds of annual by-catch -- injured and dead fish and other marine animals unintentionally caught by fishermen and then thrown overboard. This includes endangered creatures like whales and sharks, as well as commercially viable fish that may have been too young or too damaged to bring to port.

"By-catch is one of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. today," Cano-Stocco said. "It's one of the largest threats to the proper management of our fisheries and to the health of our oceans and marine ecosystems." Due to underreporting, by-catch numbers are probably an underestimate, she explained.

Released Friday, Oceana's report strives to highlight the need to document by-catch numbers and develop better management strategies to prevent the high level of unnecessary slaughter in our oceans.    

The report identifies nine of the worst by-catch fisheries in the nation. These fisheries -- defined as groups of fishermen that target a certain kind of fish using a particular kind of fishing gear in a specific region -- are reportedly responsible for more than half of all domestic by-catch; however, they're only responsible for about 7 percent of the fish brought to land, the report notes.

Some of these fisheries reportedly discard more fish than they keep; others are said to throw out large amounts of the very fish species they aim to catch. California fishermen who use drift gillnets (walls of netting that drift in the water) to capture swordfish, for example, reportedly throw out about 63 percent of their total catch.  


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