Scrolling through my newsfeed last week, I was struck by the haunting photo of a dolphin who’d been inadvertently killed by the commercial fishing industry. The industry term for deaths like this is “bycatch” – marine wildlife negligently caught in vast fishing nets. If you think this poor dolphin is an outlier, you’re sadly wrong. In fact, an 38 million tons of unintentional species are caught each year by fishermen, up to 40 percent of the world’s catch. The individual numbers are so vast we can’t even calculate them – they include dolphins, sharks, seals, tortoises, pelicans, and numerous other nautical animals.
This photo was taken by Brian Raymond, a former commercial fishermen turned activist, based in Rhode Island. I learned about Raymond in this Scuba Diving magazine article that details his work and the devastating effects of bycatch on our oceans. Born into a family of fishermen, Raymond says people who fish for a living become desensitized to bycatch. After years in the fishing industry, Raymond had finally had enough. After some time passed, he decided to publish his personal photos that show the disturbing reality of commercial fishing on his social media. The outcry was real, so was the backlash.
I touched on a closely-related subject recently in a post about the horrifying amount of plastic in our oceans. Surveys have found that a vast amount of the ocean’s plastic debris is actually discarded fishing nets. One study conducted by the nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup found that nearly half of all the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is fishing nets. Not only do these nets kill indiscriminately when they’re employed by fishermen, they continue to trap, strangle, and drown animals long after they’re tossed like trash into the sea.
So if you care about plastic pollution in our oceans, avoiding straws is great – but even better, you should stop eating fish.
The sheer devastation caused by commercial fishing is impossible to imagine. Massive trawlers, or fishing vessels, can cast nets up to 30 miles long according to NASA. These nets kill everyone in their path, not just species targeted for food. The journal Science reported on a study a few years back which found that if current commercial fishing practices aren’t changed, we could be looking at fishless oceans as soon as 2048. Areas of the world like the South China Sea are already facing collapse.
While activists like Brian Raymond are essential to raising awareness and educating the public, it is truly up to each of us to take a stand for marine wildlife. It’s absolutely shattering to see images of dolphins and sharks killed by commercial fishing, but all sea animals warrant our respect and consideration. These animals deserve to live their lives free from human exploitation. We must stop eating them.
Main image: Brian Raymond