Landmark Decision to Protect Endangered Sea Turtles, Dolphins, and Whales | Oceana USA

Landmark Decision to Protect Endangered Sea Turtles, Dolphins, and Whales

Federal Fishery Managers Cap Bycatch in California Swordfish Drift Gillnet Fishery



Press Release Date

Monday, September 14, 2015
Location: Sacramento, CA
Contact: Geoff Shester: [email protected] 831-643-9266

Today, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) adopted hard limits on the number of endangered marine mammals and sea turtles that can be injured or killed in the California-based swordfish drift gillnet fishery. Oceana commends the Council’s action to safeguard sensitive marine wildlife. If too many endangered species are caught over a two-year period, the fishery will be shut down for the remainder of the fishing season.

“This important action is needed to clean up one of the nation’s dirtiest fisheries,” said Ben Enticknap, Oceana’s Pacific Manager and Senior Scientist. “The bycatch caps will help protect animals most at risk and create an incentive for fishermen to avoid catching these animals in the first place. Ultimately, however, the swordfish fishery needs to switch to clean gear types.”

Drift gillnets — stretching a mile in length and 200 feet below the ocean’s surface — target swordfish and thresher sharks in federal ocean waters off California. Yet they create a deadly trap for all ocean wildlife that swims in their path. On average, the swordfish drift gillnet fishery throws overboard 64 percent of its catch, much of it dead or dying. Marine mammals feeding off the coast of California are regularly ensnared in these invisible nets and they drown when they are not able to surface for air.  

According to the Council decision, hard caps will be set for the following nine wildlife species: endangered fin, humpback, and sperm whales, short-fin pilot whales, and common bottlenose dolphins; as well as for endangered leatherback, loggerhead, olive ridley, and green sea turtles (see table, below). Federal fishery observers are expected to monitor 30% of the fishery to determine if the caps are hit in the next two fishing years, and fishery monitoring will increase to 100% in 2018 according to the Council action.

“This is a critical step toward a full transition from drift gillnets to cleaner, profitable fishing gears like deep-set buoy gear,” said Geoff Shester, California Campaign Director. “Ultimately, our vision is for a clean West Coast swordfish fishery supporting local jobs and sustainable seafood.”

Other gear types like harpoons and deep-set buoy gear can be used to catch swordfish in ways that provide fishermen with a higher price per pound for their landed catch, and these gear types are much safer for ocean wildlife. 

In addition to hard caps for the nine marine mammal and sea turtle species, the Council also established performance objectives for the bycatch of other marine mammals, sharks and manta rays listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and recreationally important billfish caught in these nets. While the performance objectives are not regulatory limits, if the swordfish drift gillnet fishery does not reduce its bycatch to meet those objectives, the Council indicated it would consider additional management actions in the future. Together with the hard caps, this creates a new management regime with strong incentives to reduce the incidental take and killing of non-target fish and wildlife. 

Last year, Oceana’s “Wasted Catch” report identified the California swordfish drift gillnet fishery among the nine dirtiest fisheries in the United States. The Council’s action is consistent with Oceana’s recommended approach in that report to count, cap, and control bycatch. While hard caps will help protect wildlife populations most at risk of extinction, the only way to fix the inherent bycatch problem, which has plagued the swordfish drift gillnet fishery for more than 30 years, is to switch to cleaner fishing gears.

Today’s decision by the Pacific Fishery Management Council will now go to the National Marine Fisheries Service for final review and approval.

For more information about the swordfish drift gillnet fishery and more sustainable fishing gears available please visit www.oceana.org/stopthenets.

Species

Two Year Hard Cap

Endangered Species Act Status

Fin whale

2

Endangered

Humpback whale

2

Endangered

Sperm whale

2

Endangered

Leatherback sea turtle

2

Endangered

Loggerhead sea turtle

2

Endangered

Olive ridley sea turtle

2

Endangered

Green sea turtle

2

Endangered

Short-fin pilot whale

4

Not listed but low population

Common bottlenose dolphin

4

Not listed but low population

 

Table. Two-year “hard cap” levels recommended by the Pacific Fishery Management Council for nine species of marine mammals and sea turtles.

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Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 600,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America, Asia, and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org