Prevent Global Bycatch of Whales and Other Wildlife

A dead Humpback whale caught in fishing line in the Gulf of Maine Fotosearch/Getty Images


Commercial fishing operations often hook, trap, and entangle marine mammals and other wildlife with their gear. More than 650,000 whales and dolphins are killed or seriously injured every year by foreign fishing fleets casting their net for other species. Here in the United States, where bycatch represents roughly 20 percent of the fish caught in our waters, NRDC is using decades of expertise in fisheries litigation to enforce and strengthen laws that reduce this threat.

We have assessed the scale of the problem, revealing that outmoded fishing gear used by foreign fleets is endangering whole populations of marine mammals, including New Zealand sea lions, Mediterranean sperm whales, vaquita porpoises, spinner dolphins, and many other species.

According to the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, nations exporting fish or fish products to this country must prove that their gear does not kill or injure marine mammals in excess of U.S. standards. Yet for decades, the United States has failed to enforce this law, so NRDC is pushing the National Marine Fisheries Service to fully implement it. We are also working to shore up the laws governing bycatch in U.S. waters. American fishermen use gear that is meant to protect marine mammals, but many still bring in too many unintended fish, birds, sea turtles as well as marine mammals. For every shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico, 2.5 other fish are found in the net, as well.

NRDC advocates are calling on Congress to amend the bycatch provisions in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Management Act—America’s bedrock ocean fisheries law—so that it requires fishery-management plans to include bycatch prevention, expand the bycatch definition to encompass seabirds and other marine species beyond fish, and improve the monitoring and reporting of bycatch.

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