Keeping track of how many fish die—because they’re caught and kept or don’t survive after being thrown back—is important information for the sustainable management of fish populations. But while estimating the number of fish brought to the docks is a challenge, it’s even more difficult to count discarded fish that subsequently die. Consider that of the 430 million fish caught by U.S. recreational anglers in 2013, about 61 percent were released. Commercial fishermen, who hauled in 9.5 billion pounds in the same year, threw back 1 pound of fish for every 5 pounds caught. The reasons range from catch limit rules to seasonal closures to accidental capture of endangered or prohibited species. Estimates vary of how many of these fish survive. Therefore, it is critical to get a better handle on these numbers to monitor the effects of fishing on the health of the population. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a draft Action Plan for Fish Discard and Release Mortality Science to improve data and science about discarded fish.
Pew submitted the following letter to NOAA, urging further actions to bolster the plan.