How That Shrimp You're Eating May Have Killed a Whale

by Matt Hershberger Apr 21, 2014

Infographic closeup

As a child, when I went out fishing, we’d cast our lines, wait for a while, and then whatever bit was reeled in and later cooked for dinner. There wasn’t ever a problem with waste: The fish we caught were the ones we ate, unless they were smaller than was legally allowed, in which case we returned them.

Modern-day industrial fishing, unfortunately, can’t function with that same level of efficiency, as it’s responsible for feeding millions of people, and not just a 10-year-old and his dad. In industrial fishing operations — thanks to the use of nets and other fishing technologies — they often catch fish and other marine life they weren’t intending to catch. This is called bycatch, and the bycatch is often killed and, because it wasn’t wanted in the first place, thrown back.

Bycatch — the fish that don’t end up on our plates — accounts for 90% of all fish caught. The worst offenders of this incredible bycatch inefficiency are shrimp and prawn trawlers. In fact, our attempts to catch shrimp, some of the smallest ocean creatures we eat, may be responsible for killing the largest creatures on earth: whales.

Considering how rapidly the oceans are losing their marine life, and considering the 10% that does make it to our plates feeds up to 20% of the world’s population, any reductions we could make to bycatch — to that 90% — would be incredibly beneficial to our world’s oceans. There are ways of doing it, but they’re expensive, and as such aren’t happening as quickly as they might otherwise.

Check out this infographic by Will Hood for more information and learn more about bycatch via the World Wildlife Fund.

Infographic by Will Hood

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