Our exhibit in the Open Sea wing called “An Accidental Catch” includes some very striking fishes that also happen to get snared as bycatch in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery.
“What we’re showing are species that get caught in nets with the shrimp ,” says Curator of Husbandry Operations Steve Vogel. “They’re also really cool animals, like the striped burrfish, which looks like a golf ball with spines; and the bighead sea robin, which looks like a giant mouth with wings.
“Some are really personable, and some are just plain funky. But what they have in common is that they’re useless to commercial fishermen.”
All about Bycatch
Fishing nets and longline hooks set to catch our favorite seafood—like shrimp and swordfish—often snare open-sea fishes, sharks, seabirds, turtles and marine mammals. Shrimp operations worldwide have one of the highest bycatch rates of all fisheries.
“When you buy wild-caught shrimp, these fish and other small animals are what’s caught along with the shrimp,” says Steve. “Everything in the net but the shrimp is swept overboard to die, or cut up for bait.”
So why does it matter if such fish are removed in large numbers, anyway?
“You’re taking out mid-level predators,” says Steve. “Those are the species that larger animals—like sharks—feed on. And species lower in the food web no longer have natural predators. Removing these bycatch species throws the whole ecosystem out of balance.”
Fortunately, U.S. fishermen are required to use measures like the Turtle Excluder Device (TED), which lets sea turtles escape from the net while still allowing the fishery to retain target species, like shrimp. (Watch a TED in action.)
Consumers can help by choosing only sustainably caught shrimp from the U.S, by using our Seafood Watch recommendations.
Species shown in photographs include the Spotfin mojarra (Eucinostomus argenteus), bighead sea robin (Prionotus tribulus), striped burrfish (Chilomycterus schoepfii ), and the commercially targeted species, southern pink shrimp (Farfantepenaeus notialis).