Commercialisation of Fisheries Bycatch
Commercial fisheries catch a large volume and diversity of non-target species in their nets, known as bycatch. Although once discarded, with diminishing catches of commercial species and a growing demand for seafood and other products, many bycatch species are increasingly retained and sold. Small-sized bycatch fish are sold for as ‘trash fish’ for reduction, to produce fish oil, fishmeal and other processed products that are not directly used for human consumption.
This reduction fisheries utilises fish that would otherwise be discarded, supplements the income of fishers, and supports the livelihoods of thousands in the supply chain. However, there are growing concerns regarding the sustainability of this practice; reduction fish is largely composed of juveniles, and their unchecked harvesting can be seriously detrimental to fish populations. Reduction fishing may be driving commercial fisheries to fish to the point of collapse of the target species.
Our project aimed to characterise reduction fisheries in Malvan, Maharashtra, and understand the implications of this process through multiple lenses.
We assessed the biological characteristics, catch rates and socio-economics of reduction fish from trawlers in Malvan. We found that about a third of a trawler’s landed catch is used for reduction. Most of these fish are juveniles of edible and commercially valuable species, like scads, sardines and ribbonfish.
Reduction fish could be sold for up to Rs. 27 per kilo, and could contribute significantly to a fisher’s income. However, the high abundance of juveniles indicates that this practice may have serious impacts on the long-term survival of these populations. Continued overexploitation can lead to an ecological catastrophe for nearshore marine populations as well as the loss of livelihoods for a large number of fishers and fish workers.
Outcomes from this project made it clear that we need further research that is interdisciplinary and holistic in order to better understand and manage this issue. Building on this work, we have initiated a larger project to characterize reduction fisheries in major fishing harbours along the Indian coastline.