Environmental Problems And Solutions: Bycatching

Environmental problems that we are facing today have not just come to happen overnight. It has taken years and even decades to get where we are environmentally today. A major impact that I see often from living in Florida, is bycatching. Bycatching is “the incidental capture of non-target species such as dolphins, marine turtles and seabirds.” (WWF) Unfortunately, because of humans’ inconsideration, and laziness of cleaning up after themselves, it has become detrimental to the marine animals.

Impacts of bycatching include: the endangerment of “15% shark species”, the catching of thousands of sea turtles, sea birds, and marine mammals. According to Anthony Domanico, a major decrease in the shark population could trigger things like out-of-control algae or the extinction of smaller animals such as scallops that rely on sharks to eat their predators. Sharks feed on tuna, who eat scallops. If there were no more sharks, tuna would rise to the top of the food chain and eat all the scallops, which eat algae. Furthermore, if scallops become extinct then algae would increase tremendously and damage the whole ocean ecosystem. So as anyone can tell, just having one animal extinct could change the way the whole system works. Now imagine having more than one species endangered of becoming extinct because of a careless act like bycatching.

Bycatching can be caused by multiple factors. One factor is the current fishing gear and supplies covers a broad area in the ocean which means more than just the focused species are caught. So when fishermen go to catch their planned species, they can easily capture other species that are around them at the time. Another cause of bycatching is called longlining. “Longline consists of a very long main line … to which smaller lines with baited hooks are attached”. Longlines are meant to catch targeted fish, but they often catch fish that are not targeted. “Scientists estimate that longline fisheries kill 150,000 to 300,000 seabirds each year”. That is a staggering amount to what it would be if fishermen did not use longlines. Longlining can also kill marine mammals. If a marine mammal swallows one of the hooks, it is not able to go to the surface to breathe. In addition, poor management skills made by fisheries are also a cause to bycatching. For example, though some fisheries require devices that minimize bycatching, they are not always enforced.

Luckily, scientists have caught on to what is happening in the fishing world through bycatching, and there has been a number of ways to help reduce or prevent bycatching. A great way that OceanToday that would help is a special fishing net. This particular net was designed to separate cod from haddock with a specialized separator. Ropes would guide haddock towards the top of the net and cod would be able to exit through an opening at the bottom of the net. Furthermore, WWF has been able to (with the help from others) introduce a new hook that would prevent turtles from swallowing it. They are circle hooks instead of the J hooks that fishermen have been using to catch larger fish. Some other preventions that have come about are actual laws formed by the government. Examples are Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, and Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Even though not all people can grasp the importance of preventing bycatching from happening, we as a community need to spread awareness throughout the world. Saving the ecosystem of the ocean is just as important as saving ourselves from harm. People need to familiarize themselves with the causes and impact of bycatching and do what they can to come up with a solution to the problem. Fisheries and the government should work more closely together to hold fishermen accountable for what is happening in the oceans.  

16 December 2021
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