Calling All Fishermen: Here’s What to Do with Your Bycatch

by Owen James Burke


So long as there are nets, longlines and even single hooks, there will be bycatch–that is, the unintentional catching of un-targeted species. Most animals captured by commercial fishing vessels die, either before they’re brought aboard, or afterwards due to the trauma of being dragged and handled. It’s a part of fishing that will remain until more sustainable fishing methods are instated, but the fact is that we’re not there yet. Still, there are ways in which we can benefit from the unfortunate deaths of these animals, and in turn, work toward protecting them. Photo: Melbourne Museum.

Victoria, Australia commercial fisherman James Owen and his crew pulled up this 6.5-meter (21.3-foot) basking shark, but rather than cash in on the haul, he chose to alert scientists, and donate the fish’s remains to research.


James Owen, not looking terribly thrilled with his catch, kneels beside the 21-foot basking shark, which weighed over 3 tons. Photo: Bob McPherson/Twitter.

Among these animals are birds, turtles and other fish, but whales and sharks also fall victim to bycatch.

What’s a fisherman to do? Well, more sustainable fishing methods would be preferable, but evidently, the industry isn’t there yet.

Some bycatch, while mistakenly captured, can prove to be lucrative, and whales, sharks, and an array of legally protected species can even fetch small fortunes, especially on the black market.

For many, it’s a conundrum. The animal is already dead, and there’s not much that can be done. Fishermen in most countries have but a few choices: dump the animal back into the sea, stow it and hope they’re not caught by authorities or consume it right then and there at sea and dispose of any evidence. Donating bycatch to science is a relatively novel concept, especially for such delicacies as whale and shark, but it’s taking off in the developed world, especially in the United States.


Basking sharks are harmless to humans, but they do bear these strange, gummy-looking teeth. Photo: Melbourne Museum.

As for this basking shark, scientists know very little about the species, which happens to be the second largest fish in the sea behind the whale shark. So, when Owen declared his intentions to give the remains to the Melbourne Museum, senior collections co-ordinator Dianne Bray was, considering the circumstances, elated:

“We would rather see something in the ocean, everyone would rather see it in the ocean, but this way it is preserved so that we and future generations can learn more about them.”

Too big to be transported, scientists on behalf of the Melbourne Museum traveled to the Portland dock where this fish was landed to begin dissecting it on Monday.

Read more at -OJB

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