In order to catch 3 million squid, a small fleet of Japanese fishing vessels on the high seas accidentally killed 58,100 blue sharks, 914 dolphins, 141 porpoises, 52 fur seals, 25 puffins and 22 marine turtles, according to a report released Friday by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The incidental catch is a tally from 32 Japanese fishing boats operating in the last half of 1989 and represents less than 4 percent of the Japanese fishery that operates in the North Pacific and employs controversial drift nets.
If the toll accurately represents what is happening in the entire fishery, the United Nations should insist on an immediate moratorium on the use of drift nets in the Pacific, said William Fox, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine fisheries service. The U.N. recommended a ban on large-scale, open-sea, drift-net fishing by 1992, which the United States supports.
To catch squid on the high seas, Japan, Taiwan and the Republic of Korea increasingly have employed drift nets that are 30 or 40 miles long and several feet deep. The fishermen put the nets out in the afternoon and gather them the next morning to capture squid as they rise to the surface to feed at night.
U.S. fishermen have attacked the practice as wasteful, saying the nets are designed not just to catch squid but other fish. The fishermen are most concerned that salmon and tuna are being depleted by foreign vessels. Environmentalists often refer to the drift nets as "strip-mining the sea" because they entangle and drown anything that swims into their path.
The report of incidental catches was made by U.S., Canadian and Japanese observers aboard a fleet of 32 Japanese squid vessels in the North Pacific from June through December 1989. It marked the first time a multinational team of observers was allowed aboard the fleet. The 1990 monitoring program will have three times as many observers.
The observers found that to catch 3 million flying neon squid, the 32 boats also took the following incidental catch: 59,060 albacore tuna, 10,495 yellow tail tuna, 7,155 skipjacks and 1,433,466 pomfret, a common ocean fish. Henry Beasley of the National Marine Fisheries Service said that it is routine for drift-net fleets to keep all larger tuna.
Surprisingly, the fleet under observation caught only 79 salmon. One reason the multinational observers were aboard is because Congress was concerned that foreign vessels are depleting U.S. salmon stocks. Countries such as the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union and Japan consider salmon born in their streams to belong to their fishermen, who catch the fish as they return from the ocean to their rivers of their birth.
In addition to the salmon, the drift nets captured 208 northern fur seals, of which 52 were dead. The boats killed 914 dolphins, 141 porpoises and 22 turtles, including nine leatherbacks.
Seabirds also experienced casualties. Dead in the nets were 539 albatrosses, 8,536 shearwaters, 25 puffins and 17 storm petrels.