Entangled ring seal.
NOAA
A ring seal entangled in fishing equipment — aka bycatch.

For every pound of sashimi, barbecued shrimp, or grilled sea bass that you stuff into your mouth, you’re basically spitting four ounces of marine life onto the floor.

The nonprofit Oceana published a detailed report on Thursday cataloguing the egregious problem of bycatch in U.S. fisheries. Bycatch is a word that refers to the sharks, turtles, whales, non-edible fish, and other critters that are inadvertently hauled into fishing boats or caught up in the gear of fishing fleets that are pursuing more palatable and lucrative species.

Such gratuitous killing wreaks havoc with marine food chains that are needed to support sustainable fisheries. From Oceana’s new report:

Bycatch is one of the biggest threats to the oceans and has contributed to overfishing and the dramatic decline of fish populations around the world. Commercial fisheries bring in approximately 160 billion pounds of marine catch around the world each year, which means almost 400 million pounds are caught every day. Recent estimates indicate as much as 40 percent of global catch is discarded overboard.

Based in part on U.S. government studies, Oceana estimates that 17 to 22 percent of animal life captured by the American fishing industry is discarded back into the sea — “likely already dead or dying.” If that’s accurate, some 2 billion pounds of marine wildlife is inadvertently being maimed or killed by the U.S. fishing sector every year.

The problem is not well measured globally or in the U.S.:

Click to embiggen.
Oceana
Click to embiggen.

Of those American fisheries where bycatch is measured, nine fisheries cause a lionfish’s share of the problem — they’re responsible for half of the country’s reported bycatch but they bring in just 7 percent of its landings.

Click to embiggen.
Oceana
Click to embiggen.

Oceana is calling for new regulations, the closing of loopholes in existing regulations, vigorous enforcement of rules already on the books, and better monitoring of bycatch. “Bycatch is not inevitable,” the report states. “There are ways to minimize unintended injury and waste by using cleaner gear, avoiding areas where vulnerable species are known to be present and enforcing bycatch limits each season.”