Fishermen sometimes catch and discard animals they do not want, cannot sell, or are not allowed to keep, creating what we know as bycatch. Bycatch can be fish, but also includes marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds that become hooked or entangled in fishing gear.
Bycatch is a complex, global issue that threatens the sustainability and resiliency of our fishing communities, economies, and ocean ecosystems. Bycatch of protected species, such as sea turtles and marine mammals, remains a significant threat to recovering dwindling populations. We are committed to minimizing bycatch in U.S. fisheries to ensure our fisheries are sustainable and protected species are given the best chance to recover.
NOAA provides approximately $2.4 million annually to researchers to find innovative solutions to bycatch.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act paved the way for domestic and international agreements that have helped reduce the bycatch of dolphins in the yellowfin tuna fishery by more than 99%.
Alaska longline fishery seabird bycatch was 3,712 birds for 2010, compared to 6,353 birds for 2005.
We work with the fishing industry and other partners to develop regulations and technology-based fishing gear modifications to reduce bycatch of non-target species. Our ability to reduce bycatch depends on data collected by our National Observer Program. Fisheries observers track where, when, and how many protected species become hooked or entangled in fishing gear. Once bycatch reduction measures are implemented, observers also help to monitor their effectiveness.
Learn more about fishing gear impacts
The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires us to develop and implement plans to prevent the depletion of certain marine mammals that are seriously injured or killed in commercial fisheries and assist in their recovery. Teams of stakeholders recommend measures for reducing marine mammal bycatch through regulatory and voluntary measures.
Learn more about marine mammal bycatch
Bycatch is one of the most serious threats to the recovery and conservation of sea turtles. Many U.S. fisheries have rules in place to reduce sea turtle bycatch, and cooperative fishing gear research with fishermen is ongoing. In the Southeast, we worked closely with the trawl fishing industry to develop turtle excluder devices that reduce sea turtle deaths from shrimp trawl nets.
Learn more about turtle excluder devices
Protection of dolphins is a unique concern for the purse seine tuna fishery of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, where tuna and dolphins are known to closely associate, leading to incidental catch of dolphins. The Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act of 1990 and other international agreements mandate tuna tracking programs and other dolphin conservation efforts for this region.
Learn more about Dolphin Safe
Seabirds can tell us a lot about the marine ecosystems they inhabit. They travel long distances, are near the top of the food chain, and are relatively easy to study compared to underwater animals. However, they can also be caught incidentally by some types of fishing gear, a problem that NOAA Fisheries and partners around the world are working to address.
Learn more about our efforts to reduce seabird bycatch
We work globally to reduce bycatch in fishing operations and address illegal fishing practices to reduce the incidental catch and mortality of fish and other animals including marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, and sharks. Our international work builds on our domestic efforts and includes participation in international agreements, training and education of foreign fisheries, development of international standards and best practices for fishing operations, and enforcement of international laws.
Learn more about our international work
Fishing operations sometimes result in “bycatch” of non-target species. Learn how NOAA Fisheries is working with partners to reduce bycatch.