Fish that are caught but not retained (i.e., discarded) are considered bycatch. Fish are discarded for economic reasons (typically fish that are unmarketable or unprofitable to retain) or required to be discarded due to regulations (typically catch above a legal amount, or catch of prohibited species).
Overall, the amount of bycatch in the North Pacific halibut and groundfish fisheries is relatively low. In 2021 for example, only 97,000 tons were discarded of the 2.1 million tons of fish caught, giving an overall discard rate of 4.7%. This discard rate has been greatly reduced since the 1990s and is currently well below the global discard rate of 10%. The observed discard rates differ substantially by gear type, with North Pacific discard rates of about 1% for pelagic trawls, 11% for bottom trawls, 24% for bottom longlines, and 4% for pot gear targeting halibut and groundfish.
The composition of the discards and the discard rates by species provide information on where managers can focus efforts to reduce discards. Pollock has the lowest discard rate of any other species, but accounts for the highest proportion of discarded fish. Pacific cod, Atka mackerel, Pacific ocean perch and most BSAI flatfish species also have low discard rates (<10%). Some rockfish species, as well as halibut, sablefish, and skates have somewhat higher discard rates overall. Grenadiers, sculpins, and numerous other species are fully discarded.
Conservation concerns regarding groundfish bycatch are limited in that all bycatch is assumed dead and the amount accrues towards the annual catch limits. Nevertheless, the Council works to address social concerns regarding salmon bycatch and U.S. food security, and seeks to minimize all bycatch, including regulatory and economic discards, to the extent practicable.
Staff contact is David Witherell.