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What is Trawling?

Trawling is a method of fishing that involves pulling a fishing net through the water behind one or more boats. Trawling ships, or factory ships, drag massive nets as wide as a football field through every level of the ocean waters and along the bottom of the sea disrupting, destroying and catching virtually everything in its path, including sea animals and precious marine habitats, like coral reefs. Many refer to Trawling as the ocean equivalent of forest clear cutting. Trawling ships intentionally fish for mass amounts of anchovies, mackerel, cod, pollock, squid, shrimp, and rockfish- but catch many other precious, sometimes even endangered species in the process. The other species unintentionally caught is referred to as ‘bycatch’, and is discarded back into the ocean as waste.

A trawler can hold up to 90 tons (180,000 lbs!) of fish and there is often a crew and system on board where the fish are processed, boxed, frozen and ready to offload at west coast ports for distribution to stores and fast food restaurants. The true cost of our fish sandwiches might indeed be too high. While there are many countries that have rules and laws against this type of ‘clear cut’ fishing, most of this fishing happens in International Waters- where there is little to no laws, regulations, or policing. The trawling fleet literally gets away with mass murder, right under many of our noses.


Accidentally killed each year:

  • 300,000 small whales and dolphins. Bycatch is causing one death every 2 minutes and is the single-largest cause of mortality for small cetaceans. Large whales (like orcas and humpbacks) are also often caught, injured, and sometimes killed in trawling nets.
  • 250,000 endangered loggerhead turtles and critically endangered leatherback turtles. 12,000+ of those turtles are caught in the US alone. Incidental capture (or bycatch) is likely the greatest threat to sea turtles and many other species worldwide.
  • 300,000 seabirds, including 17 albatross species. 7,600 or more of those seabirds are unintentionally killed in the US. Seabirds are attracted to fishing vessels and fishing operations— offal and bait can be tempting sources of “free food.” Unfortunately, this also means that they frequently get entangled in fishing gear.
  • 3.3 million sharks are caught in the Pacific Ocean alone each year as bycatch on longlines, but bycatch in nets is also attributed significantly to Sharks killed worldwide. Bycatch accounts for about half of global shark catches. In terms of numbers, sharks are the most significant bycatch species in the world’s major high seas fisheries. They are also particularly vulnerable to overfishing due to their relatively slow reproductive rate, with several species showing recent drastic declines.

Most sadly? These bullet points only touch the surface of the devastation trawling is causing to our oceans. We could go on for paragraph after paragraph on the individual species affected by Trawling Bycatch. Fish, jellyfish, whales, cetaceans, octopus, dolphins, penguins, sharks, and many more are all needlessly ripped from the water, killed, or sometimes even worse, injured and then discarded back into the Ocean to die slowly- wasted, unused, and leaving their populations decimated by overfishing and carelessness.

What can we do?

While the ultimate goal is regulating or even banning trawling of any kind, we can start with focusing on the most egregious and destructive component of the industry- Bottom trawling.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that bottom trawling causes terrible damage to seafloor ecosystems and even more terrible damage to the fragile and slow growing ecosystems of the deep sea.

Bottom trawling must be phased out.

Here are some specific ways you can help stop this atrocious waste of life, by using your vote, your money, and your voice.

  1. Knowledge is power, the more that we talk about the trawling industry and bring light to the devastation, the more likely it is to be regulated- or better yet, stopped completely. Many, if not most, people worldwide have no idea what trawling or bycatch is. This must be changed. The longer people don’t know about the devastation, the longer it can continue to happen.
  2. Educate yourself on where your seafood comes from and buy ethically! Even the businesses that advertise as ‘ethically caught’ or ‘sustainably fished’ may be lying to you. Best sourced Seafood will always be from local fisherman or small seafood markets, almost never from a ‘corporate source’. This especially applies to fishing industries given the ‘Marine Stewardship Council’ stamp of approval-
  3. Know your fishing practices! What is the difference between trawling and pot fishing? What fishing practices are sustainable for long term use of the amazing renewable resources the ocean provides? Being well educated on these matters lets us speak passionately and confidently to others- this will help spread the knowledge!
  4. We must put pressure on the trawling industry, pushing to end bottom trawling through clear actions. Focus where our money is being spent, favor selective fisheries that have more sustainable practices of fishing, and donate to nonprofits targeting the trawlers deviation.
  5. Contact your local, state and federal legislators and insist that trawling be heavily regulated and/or scrutinized.
  6. Stay informed by joining or checking in with Oceania, AMCC (Alaska Marine Conservation Council) or any number of other front line organizations that are leading the fight against this horrific industry.
  7. Join the movement, getting moment by moment updates about Alaskan bycatch through this Facebook group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/181111123119023

This is just a relatively broad overview of this travesty called trawling and we urge you to learn more, do more and speak more to friends and associates about this egregious and heartbreaking assault on the oceans of our planet that belong to us all, sustain us all and contain so much miraculous, magical, sustainable and marvelous and diversity of species and life!

Sacred Acre will be providing, for those that are interested, an educational and informational area, called ‘The Estuary’, where organizations and individuals will be providing a lot of current and relevant information about trawling and other critical issues facing the ocean, wildlife and waterways of Alaska. Sacred Acre’s intention regarding these existential issues will be to educate, organize, and galvanize the people of Alaska and beyond.

More Information

Learn more about the heartbreaking devastation happening in our oceans right now: