Seafood is caught in Canada using a variety of fishing gear. Some are known to be harmful to the health of the ocean because they remove species indiscriminately and damage habitat.
Up to 10.3 million tonnes of sea life is unintentionally caught each year around the world, captured in nets, lines and other gear. Bycatch — the incidental capture of non-target fish — is a destructive and wasteful practice that harms many species. This includes those with threatened and endangered populations like sea birds, sharks, sea turtles, whales and fish.
A recent report from Oceana Canada analyzed bycatch in Canada and found that three gear types are associated with higher amounts of bycatch: trawls, longlines and dredges. Here’s some more information on each gear type, and other fishing methods you can enquire about to make more eco-friendly choices when seafood shopping.
Bottom trawling. This is one of the most destructive and least selective methods of fishing. It involves dragging weighted nets across the sea floor. These are often enormous and capture almost everything in their path, including vulnerable habitat. Many commercial species that are targeted by trawls can be fished using other methods that are less destructive to habitat.
Longlines. These are extremely long fishing lines with thousands of individual baited hooks branching off the main lines. They can extend more than 80 kilometres and be used either along the seafloor or closer to the surface, depending on the species being targeted. If a bird or other animal becomes hooked, it is often seriously injured or dead by the time the gear is retrieved.
Using circle hooks on longlines can reduce bycatch of turtles, while attaching streamers to lines can reduce bird bycatch. Using harpoons, hand lines, greenstick or buoy gear instead of long lines are more sustainable options that reduce bycatch.
Dredges. These are essentially large steel cages on skis that are dragged across the ocean floor. Regular dredges have large metal teeth that dig into the seafloor to lift their catch up into the basket. Hydraulic dredges shoot high-powered jets of water into the sediment to expose and scoop up the species they’re targeting. This causes changes to the sediment and associated marine life.
In shallow water, diving or using rakes, shovels, clam tubes and tongs can reduce seafloor damage. Because there are no economically viable alternatives in deeper water, habitat protection measures are important.
Find more information online at oceana.ca/bycatch. www.newscanada.com