Waste of Fish, Waste of TIme: The Problem of Bycatch

Written by Angela Alcaraz
Illustration by Kristi Seredrica
Published 2020 December 28

Fishing has always been a source of livelihood and income for those living in coastal areas. In 2015, the fisheries sector in the Philippines provided employment to over 1.6 million people.[1] However, like with everything else, there are problems the fishing sector must address. One of those is the issue on bycatch. Bycatch, as it is usually known, is the incidental catch of a non-targeted species. This is mainly happening because of the use of fishing gear that are less selective, meaning it can catch not only the target species but also other animals as well.[2] Examples of such fishing gear include longlines, gillnets, and trawls.[3]

The definition of bycatch given is one that is commonly used, but it can vary within regions like Southeast Asia.[4] Because of the variety in bycatch intensity and in the socio-economic context of each fishery, it is difficult to come up with a more comprehensive understanding of bycatch.[4] The understanding of bycatch is important in creating good mitigation efforts to reduce it since it has negative effects on marine life and on the fisheries themselves. Juvenile fish that were caught in fisheries world-wide are discarded and often do not survive, which contributes to overfishing.[5] 3.3 million sharks are caught each year in the Pacific Ocean on longlines.[5] Aside from fishes, sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals (including whales and dolphins), invertebrates (such as starfish, sea urchins, and crabs) and corals are all caught as bycatch and would sometimes die because of it.[3,5] Bycatch has negative effects on marine life shown by how many animals fisheries have unintentionally caught. Because of this, it has impacts on the species diversity of marine life.[6] Species diversity is defined by species richness, which is the number of species in a location, and species evenness, which is how close each species are in terms of abundance.[7] Bycatch can also affect the fisheries themselves by damaging fishing gear and wasting the time of fishermen.[3] Fisheries may also close because of high bycatch.[8]

In the Philippines, bycatch from trawls are used as feed in aquaculture of high value species, used in the preparation of fishmeal, eaten during short fishing trips, or are sold fresh or dried if caught during longer fishing trips.[1] While we do know what happens to bycatch, there are still gaps in the data on bycatch in the Philippines, especially concerning the conservation status of the bycatch species, [4] which can hinder the assessment of biodiversity in the country. There are laws in the Philippines that assist in reducing bycatch such as the Fisheries Administrative Order no. 237, which requires the use of a device to lessen bycatch.[9] Despite having laws and regulations for this issue, the enforcement is inadequate. 

A research study by Estelle Marina H. Banzon, Maria Isabel O. Padilla, Jonathan Patrick Yan, and Ronald Allan L. Cruz proposes different categories of bycatch giving a more organized understanding of it. These categories were constructed based on three criteria that the authors observed from the information they gathered from interviews with fishermen, fish dealers, and vendors at Anilao fish port in Batangas. The first criterion refers to the targeting of the organism; whether it was actively targeted, not targeted, or was avoided because of laws and regulation. The second criterion pertains to what the fishermen do with the catch, if they would keep or release it. The third criterion refers to whether the catch was given any monetary value or was given for free.[4]

Using those three criteria, six categories were made. Category A is bycatch that is not actively targeted, but will be kept if accidentally caught and may be given value. Category B is similar to A but is not sold for a price. Category C are not targeted at all because it has no use to the fishermen and are released. Category D includes those species that are usually avoided because of regulations but, if caught dead, are sold in the black market. Category E is similar to D except that, if they are caught dead, they would be eaten rather than sold, so there is no monetary value given. The last is Category F which are those organisms that are generally avoided and, if accidentally caught, will be released immediately.[4] These categories of bycatch give a much more concrete and structured way to understand bycatch. Because of this, it can help in creating more efficient mitigation plans in reducing bycatch.[4]

These categories give a more structured understanding of bycatch, especially in the Philippine setting. Having a clearer understanding of bycatch can help in gaining more accurate information about the marine ecosystem [4] since fishing poses a threat to marine biodiversity.[6] This clearer understanding of bycatch can improve management plans for fisheries and mitigation efforts to help in identifying and controlling bycatch.[4] Reducing the bycatch can help in the conservation of marine life and its diversity. The Philippines is located in the Coral Triangle and is the center of marine biodiversity.[10] As a citizen of a country so rich in marine life, it is our duty to protect it.


  1. Lamarca, Napoleon Salvdor J. Fisheries Country Profile: Philippines [Internet]. [place unknown]: Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center; 2018 [update date unknown; cited 2020 Nov 23]. Available from:  http://www.seafdec.org/fisheries-country-profile-philippines/ 
  2. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Fishing Problems: Bycatch [Internet]. [place unknown]: WWF; [date unknown] [update date unknown; cited 2020 Nov 23]. Available from: https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/our_focus/oceans_practice/problems/bycatch222/
  3. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Wild Seafood: Bycatch [Internet]. [place unknown]: The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch; [date unknown] [update date unknown; cited 2020 Nov 23]. Available from:  https://www.seafoodwatch.org/ocean-issues/wild-seafood/bycatch 
  4. Banzon EM, Padilla MI, Yan JP, Cruz RA. Proposed categories of bycatch based on an assessment of data from the Anilao Fish Port, Batangas, Philippines. Mar Policy [Internet]. 2019 Feb [cited 2020 Nov 23];100:1-7. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X18305293 
  5. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Bycatch victims [Internet]. [place unknown]: WWF; [date unknown] [update date unknown; cited 2020 Nov 24]. Available from: https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/our_focus/oceans_practice/problems/bycatch222/bycatch_victims/ 
  6. Barnes R. Fisheries and marine biodiversity. Research Handbook on International Environmental Law [Internet]. 2010 Jan [cited 2020 Nov 25]. p. 542-563. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286878445_Fisheries_and_marine_biodiversity doi:10.4337/9781849807265.00038
  7. Baillie JE, Upham K. Species Diversity Within and Among Ecosystems. Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology [Internet]. 2012. [cited 2020 Nov 25]. Available from: https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-1-4419-0851-3_413
  8. NOAA Fisheries. Understanding Bycatch [Internet]. [place unknown]: NOAA Fisheries; [date unknown] [update date unknown; cited 2020 Nov 24]. Available from: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/insight/understanding-bycatch 
  9. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. Fisheries Administrative Order [Internet]. [place unknown]: The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources; [date unknown]; [update date unknown; cited 2020 Nov 25]. Available from:  https://www.bfar.da.gov.ph/LAW?fi=401
  10. Dorente, Eric. Philippine Marine Biodiversity: A Brief Profile [Internet]. [place unknown]: Haribon Foundation; 2016 Sep 1 [update date unknown; cited 2020 Nov 25]. Available from:  https://haribon.org.ph/philippine-marine-biodiversity-a-brief-profile/

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