Bycatch waste appears to be a major sustainability challenge in N. American fisheries

A new report from the oceans-oriented non-governmental organization Oceana indicates that about $1 billion of edible fish, or 20% of the total US commercial fishery, are being wasted each year, in part because of the unintended consequences of government regulations.

The problem is that regulations control the species that can be landed at fishing ports. But they do not protect, nor is it realistic for them to control, the species that are caught. So large quantities of fish that cannot be legally landed, or for which there are no markets, are tossed overboard from fishing boats. These fish are either already dead or are so damaged that they will not recover. Some are not edible but an estimated 2 billion pounds of edible fish are wasted in this way. This represents not only a waste of income to the fishing and fish processing industry but also a huge loss of food for the world’s hungry populations.

As the fish are discarded at sea there is little data on the loss of seafood and its environmental impact on fish populations and on the oceans in general. According to Oceana little work is being done to reduce the waste. Oceana reports that, in 2009, the World Bank reported this problem as costing the global economy $50 billion every year, and likely $2 trillion over the last three decades.

The problem can be solved but it requires a new way of approaching fisheries regulation. Oceana recommends:

  • investing in better bycatch data
  • bycatch limits. Oceana states that in several situations, bycatch caps have prompted fishermen to come up with innovative gear modifications and real-time open-source reporting to collectively ensure that limits are not exceeded and they do not suffer the economic losses from premature fishery closures.
  • changing fisheries management approaches to integrate economic tools into existing bycatch regulations, for example by requiring landing and sale of controlled bycatch.

The 10 page report Wasted Cash: The Price of Waste in the U.S. Fishing Industry is available via a link at

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