Fishery Managers Move to Clean up the California Swordfish Drift Gillnet Fishery - Oceana USA
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July 2, 2014

Fishery Managers Move to Clean up the California Swordfish Drift Gillnet Fishery

The Pacific Fishery Management Council recently made a historic move by voting to clean up the California swordfish drift gillnet fishery—one of the dirtiest U.S. fisheries for bycatch.

The Council, a 14-member voting body that manages fisheries 3 to 200 miles off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington, considered placing bycatch “hard caps” on protected species—the maximum amount of individual animals that can be injured or killed before fishery operations are shut down for the season. The Council also voted to require that each vessel be observed 100 percent of the time either by federal observers or electronic monitoring.  This monitoring should be in place no later than the summer of 2016so that all catch and bycatch is counted.

“While the Council fell short of ending one of the nation’s dirtiest fisheries, it decided to put in the critical safeguards necessary to address bycatch: Count, Cap, and Control,” Oceana California campaign director Dr. Geoff Shester said in a press release. “Moving forward, the fishery is now forced to either clean up its act or get shut down.”

In addition to the hard caps for seven threatened and endangered species—including fin, humpback, and sperm whales, and leatherback, loggerhead, olive ridley, and green sea turtles—the federal fishery managers will consider bycatch reduction alternatives for all other marine mammals, sharks, and fish species discarded by the fishery. The Council is scheduled to make a final decision on hard caps this fall for implementation in the 2015 fishing season.

“Today is a great day for California’s ocean wildlife,” Oceana’s Pacific policy and communications manager Ashley Blacow said in the press release. “The decision by federal fisheries managers to move toward absolute limits on the bycatch of rare and endangered species has been a long time coming and will begin to turn the tide to more progressive fisheries management.”

Drift gillnets, mile-long nets used to target swordfish and thresher sharks in ocean waters off California, form dangerous underwater walls that entangle iconic animals including whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, and other ecologically and economically important fish. Once entangled in these nets, most eventually drown. Between May 2007 to January 2013, the drift gillnet fishery discarded 61 percent of all marine animals it caught, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Oceana will continue pressuring the Council to reduce bycatch in the drift gillnet fishery and provide opportunities for more sustainable fishing. You can learn more about our efforts here.