Leatherback tangled in fishing nets.

Bycatch refers to the unwanted sea life people catch when they’re fishing for something else.

Bycatch wastes 7 million metric tonnes of sea life every year.  The vast majority of bycatch—already dead when it hits the deck— is just discarded.   Killing hundreds of thousands of juvenile fish not big enough for legal take can undermine the entire fishery.

Bycatch includes many species of unmarketable fish, those too young or small to legally keep, sharks, sea turtles, and seabirds snared by fishing gear, and others.

Bycatch is heavy when boats use destructive fishing gear such as massive trawl nets that scrape the bottom of the ocean and capture virtually everything in their path.  The 1.4 billion baited hooks set in longline fisheries every year kill a great deal of non-target animals including sea turtles, sharks, birds, and marine mammals.

The Safina Center’s Seafood Choices Guide’s methodology for assessing wild-caught seafood uses bycatch as one of its five core criteria.  And for years The Safina Center has worked with scientists, regulators, fishing industry leaders, and conservationists to reduce the unintended catch of marine life.  We promote effective, practical solutions for the benefit and balance of ocean ecosystems.  New fishing methods or low-cost equipment changes can help animal populations recover.

Bycatch is a serious challenge to healthy fisheries worldwide but by choosing fish from low-bycatch fisheries, consumers can be part of the solution.

3 things you can do to fight bycatch:

1. Eat sustainably caught seafood.
2. Support the use of fishing gear that avoids bycatch.
3. Know the issues, get involved.

Other ways to you can make a difference.


Discards in the World’s Marine Fisheries, FAO Fisheries
What is Bycatch?, NOAA Fisheries Service
Global Assessment of Fisheries Bycatch and Discards, FAO Fisheries
Eye of the Albatross by  Carl Safina
Voyage of the Turtle by Carl Safina
NOAA Releases First National Bycatch Report, NOAA

Impacts of Bottom Trawling on Fisheries, Tourism, and the Marine Environment, Oceana