Defining Issues in International Environmental Law
Chapter 4: Incidental Capture
1 THE OVERALL PROBLEM The oceans provides crucial functions for the planet in general, and humanity in particular. One of the more important roles for humanity is the supply of fish, for an ever-hungry, expanding human population.1 In spite of this need, and in correlation with an ever-increasing take from the oceans,2 the current state of the world’s fisheries is dismal.3 According to the FAO, 11 of the world’s 15 most important fishing areas and 70 per cent of the major fish species are either fully or overexploited.4 Apart from the problem that much of this catch is destined for animal feed (approximately 25–30 per cent),5 a further approximate quarter is wasted. This wastage is typically known as ‘bycatch’. ‘Bycatch’ is a large problem in international environmental law generally. In definitional terms, ‘bycatch’ refers to ‘all species captured other than target species’.6 In some fisheries, the incidentally caught species are discarded straight away. In others, they are utilized for other purposes.7 Some fisheries are particularly problematic. For example, shrimp trawlers which work with fine-mesh nets in areas of high species diversity, take on average 5 kilograms of bystanders for every kilogram of shrimp they catch. In some shrimp fisheries, up to 97 per cent of the bycatch is discarded (although the industry average appears closer to 85 per cent) producing over 4 million tonnes of waste fish. Total bycatch from all of the world’s oceans is estimated at 17.9–39.5 million tonnes of ‘undesired species’ being killed...
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