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What Is Bycatch?

Definitions of Bycatch

The definition of bycatch, as stated in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, is:

Fish which are harvested in a fishery, but which are not sold or kept for personal use, and includes economic discards and regulatory discards.  Such term does not include fish released alive under a recreational catch and release fishery management program.


Because this definition does not include marine mammals, seabirds, and other resources that fall under NOAA Fisheries’ responsibility, NOAA Fisheries uses the following definition of bycatch for its National Bycatch Strategy and bycatch reduction efforts:

Discarded catch of any living marine resource, plus unobserved mortality due to a direct encounter with fishing gear.


Why is Monitoring and Reducing Bycatch Important?

The bycatch of fishery resources, marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, and other living marine resources has become a central concern of the commercial and recreational fishing industries, resource managers, conservation organizations, scientists, and the public, both nationally and globally.

Bycatch can decrease the sustainability of fisheries and the benefits they provide us with in several ways:

Bycatch may result in mortality for some species. If bycatch mortality is not monitored adequately, it is more difficult for scientists to understand the total impact of human activities on a species
Without this information, accounting for the impacts of bycatch in a stock assessment, setting appropriate harvest levels, and determining when overfishing is occurring become more difficult
Bycatch can impact the larger ecosystem if it occurs at unsustainable levels. Additionally, bycatch mortality may also impact future use of fishery resources For example, juvenile fish that that die due to bycatch cannot be contribute the growth of that species, or to future catch
Bycatch of endangered and threatened species is of a particular concern

If bycatch could be decreased at no cost, it would be neither a complex nor contentious. However, the bycatch problem is complex. An action that is taken to reduce the bycatch of one species can increase that of another. Regulations put in place to reduce bycatch may also prevent fishermen from maximizing their catch of other species. During the past 26 years, the Regional Fishery Management Councils and NOAA Fisheries have responded to these concerns by:

Fisheries observer programs, which are considered the most reliable source of bycatch data
National Cooperative Research Program and Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program
Conducting outreach programs to explain the bycatch problem and search for solutions