What is Bycatch?


Source Pew Foundation/ Jim Toomy

Ocean conservation is essential but sometimes difficult to understand. Pew joined forces with cartoonist Jim Toomey, the artist behind “Sherman’s Lagoon,” on 10 animated videos that explain the complicated concepts that guide efforts to protect our oceans.

Visual Glossary of Ocean Terminology – Cartoon crash course

#7 What is Bycatch?

“Bycatch” refers to all the fish and other marine creatures incidentally caught or killed by fishing gear. In commercial fishing, this happens on a huge scale: Nets and fishing lines often stretch for miles, indiscriminately snaring all manner of life—including whales, porpoises, sea turtles, and even birds. And while some types of fishing have very little waste, especially unselective gears and methods can capture more bycatch than target fish.

Cartoonist Jim Toomey—whose daily comic strip, Sherman’s Lagoon, is syndicated in more than 250 newspapers in the United States—has joined forces with The Pew Charitable Trusts to illustrate “bycatch” and other terms associated with our oceans.


Ever gone fishing hoping to catch one type of fish and ended up with something entirely different? Animals like these are called bycatch, and things usually don’t end well for them.

In commercial fishing, this happens on a huge scale: nets and fishing line often stretch for miles, indiscriminately snaring all manner of life – including
whales, porpoises and sea turtles and even birds – including whatever they meant to catch in the first place – the so-called target species.

For example, a type of gear called a drift gill net, used off the California coast to catch swordfish, also catches a host of non-target species, including dolphins, sea lions, blue sharks, and even whales.

Shrimp trawlers drag nets along the seafloor hauling up enormous quantities of wildlife, all in the pursuit of a few, precious shrimp.

Aside from having to explain to fishermen that, really, they were looking for someone else, bycatch is a big problem.

First, even when fishermen throw bycatch back, most of the creatures are usually dead or dying. Second, a lot of juvenile fish get taken as bycatch, meaning they never get the chance to have babies; that can upset the predator-prey balance and disrupt entire ecosystems. Third, threatened or endangered species are often landed as bycatch.

That’s a lose-lose-lose…lose that ultimately hurts all of us.


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February 7, 2017 |

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