Fish bycatch aboard a fishing vessel

Bycatch

Conservation & Management

We work with fishermen, industry, non-government organizations, and academia to find approaches and strategies for reducing bycatch, seabird interactions, and post-release mortality of protected species and in federally managed fisheries.

National Bycatch Reduction Strategy

We are committed to minimizing bycatch in U.S. fisheries to ensure our fisheries remain sustainable and protected species are given the best chance to recover.

We developed the National Bycatch Reduction Strategy in coordination with our partners. The objectives and actions of the strategy build on past successes and guide our efforts to reduce bycatch on a regional, national, and international scale.

Read the 2016 National Bycatch Reduction Strategy to learn more about ways NOAA Fisheries and partners are working to minimize bycatch 

Addressing Risks to Protected Species from Fishing Gear

Fishing gear can accidentally capture protected species, such as marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds. We work with the fishing industry and other partners to develop or modify fishing gear and practices to minimize bycatch of protected species and reduce the mortality rate for marine life that is incidentally caught. Fishermen use many different types of fishing gear to target their catch.

Explore information on different types of fishing gear below, its bycatch challenges, and the ways we are working with the fishing industry and other partners to minimize bycatch for each:

Learn more about fishing gear and risks to protected species  

Reducing Marine Mammal Bycatch

The Marine Mammal Protection Act is the primary way that we govern the incidental catch of marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions during commercial fishing operations. The 1994 amendments to the MMPA made several key changes to how bycatch of marine mammals in commercial fisheries are regulated:

We also issued a final rule in 2016 requiring nations exporting fish and fish products to the United States to be held to the same standards as U.S. commercial fishing operations. This rule is intended to reduce marine mammal bycatch associated with international commercial fishing operations. We have a long history of working collaboratively with other nations to address international marine mammal conservation, and this rule marks a significant step forward in the global conservation of marine mammals and expanding international collaboration for the best stewardship.

Reducing Sea Turtle Bycatch

Bycatch is a serious threat to the recovery and conservation of marine turtle populations. In addition to working with fisheries observers to monitor the bycatch of protected species like sea turtles, we have several measures in place to reduce sea turtle bycatch.

West Coast and Pacific Islands

We require certain measures, including fishing gear modifications, changes to fishing practices, and fishing closures during certain times and in certain areas to reduce sea turtle bycatch in the Hawaii and California-based pelagic longline fisheries and the California and Oregon drift gillnet fishery.

Mid-Atlantic and Southeast

Similarly, we have measures including fishing gear modifications, changes to fishing practices, and fishing closures during certain times and in certain areas to reduce sea turtle bycatch in pelagic longline, mid-Atlantic gillnet, Chesapeake Bay pound net, and Southeast trawl fisheries for shrimp and flounder.

In the southeast Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, we have worked closely with the trawl fishing industry to develop turtle excluder devices (TEDs) to reduce the mortality of sea turtles caught in shrimp trawl gear, where they can drown. A TED is a grid, made of metal bars, that is fit into a trawl net. Small animals, such as shrimp, pass through the grid into the mesh bag at the end of the trawl and are caught.  When larger animals, such as sea turtles (as well as sharks and sting rays) enter the trawl net, they are stopped by the TED and are able to exit through an opening either at the top or bottom of the net. TEDs that are large enough to exclude even the largest sea turtles are now required in shrimp trawl nets and NOAA Fisheries gear experts continue to work with the shrimp fishing industry to develop new and effective ways to reduce bycatch.

Continuing Research

We are currently involved in cooperative research projects focused on fishing gear designed to reduce sea turtle bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic pelagic longline fisheries, the Hawaii-based deep-set longline fishery, the Atlantic sea scallop dredge fishery, the Chesapeake Bay pound net fishery, and non-shrimp trawl fisheries in the Atlantic and Gulf.

Learn more about cooperative research 

National Seabird Program

The National Seabird Program is a group of managers and scientists who work domestically and internationally with a variety of partners to protect and conserve seabirds. 

The program uses several key statutes combined with priorities like ecosystem based fishery management and climate science strategic planning to achieve its goals:

  • Mitigate bycatch of seabirds and other species throughout U.S. waters and through international partnership efforts.
  • Promote seabirds as ecosystem indicators. Seabirds can provide a lot of information about the marine ecosystems where they are found. As highly migratory, near-apex predators, they provide links across trophic levels, space, and time, and are easily studied relative to other underwater marine species.

Bright streamers that hang off fishing lines are a recent technology innovation to reduce bycatch of seabirds, including endangered short-tailed albatross, in the West Coast groundfish longline fishery. This helps seabirds spot the fishing line in the sky and prevent entanglements.

    Addressing Bycatch Internationally

    Reducing global bycatch is a major priority for NOAA Fisheries. Our international work builds on our efforts in the United States and reflects the laws that drive our mission, such as the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Endangered Species Act. We work within regional fisheries management organizations and global organizations such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. We also support bilateral and multilateral cooperative work on the ground, including data collection and projects to improve bycatch mitigation technologies.

    For questions about international bycatch issues, please contact Liz English, NOAA Fisheries, Office of International Affairs (liz.english@noaa.gov).

    Learn more about our international work