What’s the catch? Commercial fishing hurts sea-dwelling mammals

FLETCHER BAILEY | Evergreen columnist

When it comes to purchasing seafood, buy American for a global purpose.

Since the age of seven, I’ve retained an inexplicable affinity for dolphins. Maybe it’s the way they address each other by name, as National Geographic reports.

Apparently, though, some foreign fisheries don’t share my penchant.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), more than 650,000 dolphins and whales are killed or critically injured every year by foreign fisheries through bycatch, the capture and disposal of non-targeted marine life through fishing.

Foreign fisheries supply more than 91 percent of America’s seafood, and regulations to prevent bycatch deaths vary widely in foreign countries, according to a National Geographic report.

Marine biologist Andrew Read of Duke University said bycatch is the biggest threat to marine mammals and threatens some species with extinction, according to the same report. Read pointed to the vaquita porpoise in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, which is nearing extinction due to foreign fishing nets.

Thankfully, American fisheries are making a concerted effort to save aquatic mammals such as the vaquita porpoise from bycatch.

The U.S. has established a series of anti-bycatch policies that require fisherman to use devices which separate intended and unintended catches, successfully decreasing bycatch by 30 percent domestically over the past two decades, according to the NRDC.

Maybe it’s the ever-enduring smile on the bottlenose dolphin that makes it so endearing. We might soon even be able to communicate with dolphins via a new advancement in dolphin translation technology, according to Discovery News.

If we could speak with some of the social mammals in North Pacific waters, they would likely plead for us to cease the slaughter of their families. Due to their social disposition, they often swim and die in bycatch as a family, sometimes meaning the fertile mother perishes along with the rest, according to NBC News.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act was established in 1972 to protect these marine mammals.

For 40 years, though, the MMPA has not been implemented adequately by the federal government, leading to a concerning lack of foreign mammal protection measures, according to the NRDC. Because of this, it is possible that foreign fisheries could offer lower prices to American distribution centers, placing American fisheries at a disadvantage.

For instance, American shrimp fishers must use three to four bycatch excluder devices on their boats at a cost of about $450 each, sometimes losing good catch, according to National Geographic.

Foreign fisheries abstain from utilizing these devices which means American distributors can import seafood more cheaply, driving overall costs down and straining American fisheries, according to the same report.

If we purchase only American seafood, we can support fisheries that work to protect aquatic mammals from bycatch. This way, we can help prevent the deaths of many species, including the ever-awesome dolphin.

– Fletcher Bailey is a junior communication major from Seattle. He can be contacted at 335-2290 or by opinion@dailyevergreen.com. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of Student Publications.