Oceana’s lawsuit about shrimp trawls

Oceana’s lawsuit about shrimp trawls violating the Endangered Species Act

By Naoto Miyachi

Oceana, an international conservation organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans and numerous endangered species in the ocean filed a lawsuit against the federal government to protect more than 53,000 sea turtles from shrimp trawl nets in April 2015. The organization accused the federal government of violating Endangered Species Act by failing to monitor fishing’s impacts on sea turtles and to set a limit the number of sea turtles can be killed. Oceana Assistant General Counsel Eric Bilsky said in the released statement “It is unacceptable for the federal government to allow this many endangered and threatened animals to die every year when viable solutions exist.” This blog will cover shrimp trawling and general information on bycatch in the United States.

Shrimp Trawling

Trawling is a method usually used when fisheries try to catch targeted species like crab, shrimp, tuna and so forth. This method involves pulling a fishing net through the water behind one or more boats. When it comes to shrimp trawling, fisheries will use bottom trawling to get wild shrimp. Bottom trawling is towing the trawl close to sea floor, which allows us to capture huge amount of targeted species at one tow. But the problem is that shrimp trawling catches, besides shrimps, organisms that live on or near the bottom of the sea, including corals, sponges and various species of fish, like sharks and sea turtles.

Bycatch and Discards

These untargeted species are called bycatch. According to Oceana report, shrimp trawls usually catch five to 10 pounds of other sea creatures for every pound of shrimp. Once bycatch is caught, fisheries can remove bycatch by throwing them into the water, in which case we call discards. In fact, in Europe around 1.3 million tons of marine fish are discarded every year, representing 13% of total catches. In most cases, once fish are caught, they’re going to die right away, which becomes “waste” or “trash” for fisheries. Some European counties and European Union have been working on banning discarding to tackle this issue. For example Norway, one of European countries, thrived in fishery, has succeeded in prohibiting discarding bycatch. These efforts will force fisheries to change shrimp trawling into ecological and selective one with less   untargeted fish captured.

Bycatch in the U.S.

When it comes to bycatch in the U.S., it looks like serious and severe. These are some facts about U.S. bycatch:

  • The total amount of the U.S. bycatch is almost 2 billion pounds.
  • Approximately, 20% of the U.S. catch is thrown away each other.
  • Discarded fish could be worth at least $1 billion each year
  • Less than 5% of U.S. fisheries report bycatch with the accuracy and precision recommended by federal guidelines.

(2011 National Bycatch Report)

Unfortunately, the severity of bycatch in many fisheries has been veiled. Only 1 % of all fishing trips are monitored and observed. Shrimp trawling should be replaced by more selective methods which reduce bycatch and discard. In the meantime, observing fishing trips, counting all the fish that is discarded and establishing bycatch limitation must be improved. These key changes will make U.S. fisheries resilient and sustainable.

For more information

Oceana Bycatch Campaign: http://oceana.org/our-campaigns/bycatch/campaign
Oceana Files Lawsuit to Save Thousands of Endangered and Threatened Sea Turtles: http://usa.oceana.org/press-releases/oceana-files-lawsuit-save-thousands-endangered-and-threatened-sea-turtles