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October 4, 2005

Bush and ‘Bycatch’

I wish we had a more ignominious term than “bycatch” to describe one of the greatest threats to our marine environment. Maybe fishing vessels could be found guilty of “fish-kill in the second degree.”

According to the United Nations, fully one-quarter of the fish taken in nets, seines, and longlines are discarded as unwanted or unintentional catch. Literall, tons of fish die in this way, not to mention the 300,000 marine mammals, more than 250,000 turtles, and 100,000 albatrosses killed each year after becoming entangled in fishing gear.

What is our government doing to alleviate this problem? Less than it did before, if the new fisheries legislation proposed by the Bush Administration is passed by Congress. Reporting of bycatch by fishermen need happen only “to the extent practicable.” Not explained is how the managers can possibly reduce bycatch without even knowing how much there is.

This latest “comprehensive” package actually weakens the current federal requirements on trying to curb overfishing. While claiming to be getting “serious once and for all about this,” it ignores just about all the recommendations of a presidential commission. All the current administration really seems serious about is replacing the devastated wild fish populations with massive offshore fish-farming operations – a subject we shall examine in more detail tomorrow.