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Bycatch Explained

What is Bycatch?

Fishermen sometimes catch and discard animals they do not want, cannot sell, or are not allowed to keep. This is collectively known as bycatch. Bycatch can be a bigger problem for some fisheries than others. In 2005, NOAA Fisheries estimated that about 17 percent of catch was bycatch in those U.S. commercial fisheries for which we have relevant data. Since then, there have been numerous efforts to reduce bycatch.

Why is Bycatch a Problem?

Unwanted catch is an issue both ecologically and economically. Animals that are discarded often die and cannot reproduce, impacting vulnerable ecosystems. Bycatch can also slow the rebuilding of overfished stocks and place protected species at further risk. Meanwhile, bycatch of one species may limit opportunities to fish for other species. This creates uncertainty and economic costs for fishermen.

What is NOAA Fisheries' role?

Our goal at NOAA Fisheries is to ensure fisheries remain sustainable and protected species are given their best chance to recover. We work with our partners and fishermen to avoid bycatch and when they can’t, we work with them to safely release their unintended catch. We have a number of resources and authorities to track bycatch, encourage innovation, and reduce bycatch.

Tracking Bycatch

National  Bycatch Report
National Observer Program

Encouraging Innovation

Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program
Turtle Excluder Devices
Understanding Fishing Gear

Reducing Bycatch

Protected Resources Interactions
Fishery Management Plans
Take Reduction Plans
National Seabird Program

Species Stories
Humpback Whales
How NOAA Works to Free Humpback Whales
California Rockfish
Helping Anglers Fish Smarter
Short-tailed Albatross
Saving Seabirds in the U.S. West Coast Groundfish Longline Fishery
Bering Sea Flatfish
Trawl Gear Modification—Preserving Fish Habitat
in the Bering Sea

Alaskan Groundfish & Crab
The Bycatch You Can’t See
Thresher Sharks
Scientists, Anglers Work Together to Prevent
Thresher Shark Tailspin