Strong laws against bycatch

WWF is advocating with governments to ensure that bycatch policies are properly implemented, monitored and enforced.

An estimated 40% of global fish catch is bycatch. Illegal fishers who are netting between 10 and 23 billon US dollars yearly, are part of the problem. Despite of national and international legislations, bycatch is still rampant.

 / ©: Mike R. Jackson WWF Canon
Bycatch on deck by deep-sea trawler
© Mike R. Jackson WWF Canon
There are at least 130 bycatch agreements, regulations, and legislation for reducing bycatch worlwide, of which approximately fourty have an international scope.

These policies include legal measures on net mesh sizes, fishing areas, rules for discarding fish, requirements for bycatch mitigation measures, recovery plans for specific fish species, and international standards and best practices for fishing operations to address illegal fishing practices.

To have impact, these policies need to be implemented, monitored, controlled and enforced by national and international governments, regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and other international bodies such as the United National Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). 
Thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus) caught in gill net, Gulf of California, Mexico. / ©: Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF
Thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus) caught in gill net, Gulf of California, Mexico.
© Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF

The most important international "bycatch" policies include:

  • The United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA): an international law that makes signatory states responsible for non-target species caught as bycatch.
  • The UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), is an inter-governmental treaty concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitats on a global scale. Regarding bycatch, it requests all parties to protect migratory species against bycatch from fisheries within their territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), and by vessels fishing on the high seas under national flag of the country which registered them.
  • The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) regarding driftnets and calling for actions to be taken at the policy and technical level to reduce bycatch and fish discards from this indiscriminate fishing method.
  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): this international agreement aims to ensure that trade in wild animals does not threaten their survival. For example, it includes calls to monitor the bycatch of Hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean region.
  • The World Trade Organization (WTO): This organization can play an important role in bycatch mitigation and has been involved in the issue surrounding the establishment of the mandatory requirement of Turtle Excluder Devices to be fitted into all shrimp trawls that catch and export shrimp to the US market.
  • The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has an agreement to prevent, minimize, mitigate and report the bycatch of cetaceans in fisheries operations.
  • The International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks): a plan within the voluntary FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries that aims to ensure the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use.
  • IPOA for Reducing International Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries (IPOA-Seabirds): a similar voluntary FAO plan that aims to reduce the incidental capture of seabirds in longline fisheries where this occurs.

I've lived in Atlantic Canada my whole life. It's frustrating to witness the preventable demise of an iconic species like cod and the associated impacts on the fishing communities that once depended on this resource. Reducing bycatch of juvenile cod is the first step in rebuilding healthy cod stocks and moving towards sustainable cod fisheries, which is part of my ultimate vision for the region.

Marty King, Atlantic Director, WWF-Canada

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