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Industrial Fishing Going To Waste

Updated on June 1, 2010

As the recreational fisherman that I am I always enjoy my proximity with the sea, and on one of my fish outings I had the privilege to meet a retired industrial fisherman that still today occasionally casts off on a trawler boat.

It´s an experience that I never had and just out of curiosity asked him a few questions and he was very happy to answer them expertly and knowingly.

After a while listening to the fishing veteran, I was amazed at what´s going on in these boats out on the sea and decided to do a bit more research.

In all forms of industrial fishing it’s impossible to catch only what you’re going after. Even in sport fishing that happens frequently. The removal on these boats of certain species caught is something that is always happening out there on the deep blue.

There are certain species with no commercial value and therefore they´re thrown out of the boat and another has to do with size.

Often fish caught that are too small by law to be sold on are thrown back in to the sea. This is a serious problem because it disrupts the natural process of stock renovation. Of the 900 plus species caught by the most common forms of fishing along the Portuguese coast 25% to 65% are rejected.

Most of the companies that own the greater part of the boats are from the north. These boats can stay out for two or more days at a time. The crews of these boats are supposed to rest 1 day a week but they´re constantly fishing.

What I was told by this new friend that they go out at dawn, come back to unload their catch and go back out to sea repeatedly. These boats are 20 to 30 meters long and modern with all the bells and whistles.

These boats are equipped with radar, depth sounding fish finders, satellite communication systems and salinity and water temperature measuring devices. Once the fishing location is reached and the net thrown out in to the sea the boat is constantly trawling until it is decided to reel back in the nets.

These nets usually go 200 to 1000 meters down. Each trawl can take 6 to 12 hours sometimes even more and while the net is down the boat keeps its normal fishing cruising speed. As time goes on the net is filling catching everything what the fishermen want and don´t want. Fishing isn’t that of an exact science.

When the net is pulled back in, most of the fish are already dead, then fishermen hand sort the fish by species of what they want and don´t what. The types of fish that comes in the net and with legal size that was their prime reason for fishing the specific zone are packed in the hold and iced to preserve freshness.

What remains is what they don´t want, but this catch is sorted to see what is commercially viable and put to the side. What is not is thrown back into the sea mostly dead.

As this is repeated constantly the sea bed is “littered” with dead fish every time fish are sorted. Ok, so the dead unwanted and un-commercialisable fish are food for live species. But isn´t that making things to easy for them and can it not over in time change the normal cycle and disrupt the fish species balance. Are there not industries that can collect that unwanted fish and transform it to viable products?

I´m glad I met this man and had a chat with him. It gave me more awareness of what is happening out on the sea before that sea bass or sardine that I just love ends up on my plate.

It also reminded me on the several diving situations where I would find a lost steel crab trap. These lost traps last for many years before they rot away but unfortunately are continuously fishing. Tens of thousands are lost all over just in this coast.

A lost trap catches a crab, this crab can´t get out so it weakens and dies. A fish lures itself in to feed on the dead crab and is trapped. An octopus sees this fish as food and goes in for the kill, again getting trapped. A conger eel swimming by sees this octopus knowing the delicacies of its tentacles…and this goes on and on…till I grab my knife and cut an opening to free it and stop this unfortunate cycle!

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