50 Years of Longline Fishermen Throwing Out the Endangered Half of Their Catch

Seabirds with longline fishing vessel
Wikimedia Commons

Longline fishing uses strings of hooks stretching 30 miles in the Gulf of Mexico, regularly ensnaring around 80 non-target animals, including Atlantic bluefin tuna, blue and white marlin, sailfish and endangered sea turtles. Some studies indicate that longliners throw away more animals than they actually haul in for harvest.

In the hopes of encouraging people to voice their concerns to NOAA, the Pew Environment Group, a non-profit working to educate people on the causes and solutions to environmental problems, put together this useful infographic that breaks down 54 years of longlines in the Gulf:

As the timeline shows, scientists have forecasted doom for years. In 1996, for example, the Times issued this grim prediction:

 Thousands of vessels from many nations, including the United States, are fishing with these long lines, as they are called, and they have become the gear of choice for catching swordfish, tuna, sharks and other wide-ranging, open-ocean species — pelagic species, scientists call them — that end up as fresh steaks at the seafood market. Scientists fear the efficiency of the long lines will deplete some of these fish populations.

Even before that warning, the government tried issuing the usual regulations—changing hook size, managing fish populations—but efforts have largely failed.

Now, the gravity of the problem for Atlantic bluefin tuna, a species that reproduces only in the Gulf, is attracting attention from NOAA. In April, the agency issued a document containing various conservation strategies, but nothing’s decided yet.

In their online petition to NOAA, Pew makes an effort to look on the bright side:

Although the Deepwater Horizon oil spill also threatens the survival of Gulf wildlife, oil spill restoration funds could provide the necessary resources to enable surface longline fishermen to shift to low-impact alternative gears. Those funds could help cover the costs of purchasing vessels and equipment, as well as training.

More from Smithsonian.com: Ocean-Friendly Eating, Mystery at Sea, Going “Bycatch Neutral”  

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