Mile-long drift gillnets used to target swordfish off California entangle, injure, and kill large ocean animals including whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles, numerous shark species and many other ecologically and economically important fish.
Donate here directly to the state transition fund to help raise the required one million dollars to end drift gillnets once and for all.
Contact your Congressional Representative to support federal legislation to phase out drift gillnets. Sign the petition.
CALL to ACTION
A new California state law will prohibit the use of deadly drift gillnets for good upon receipt of $1 million in non-state funds to provide fishermen with financial assistance to switch to cleaner fishing gears. In September 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1017 that established a transition program whereby drift gillnet fishermen will be financially compensated to turn in their net and permit. The law dedicates $1 million in state funds and requires a $1 million non-state funding match that will be used to help fishermen convert to the use of deep-set buoy gear to catch swordfish. Switching to cleaner gear will prevent deadly interactions with marine mammals and sea turtles that occur with drift gillnets. Once the matching funds are raised, a four-year countdown starts to phase out this destructive gear. To learn more about the legislation and transition program, click here.
To donate directly to the transition fund to raise the necessary $1 million to phase out drift gillnets and incentivize the use of cleaner fishing gears, click here.
To bolster the new California law, Congressional lawmakers have introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to phase out federal drift gillnet permits. Add your name in support of these federal bills here.
In the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast, mile-long drift gillnets are used to capture swordfish and thresher sharks. But that’s not all they catch. These nets are deployed at dusk and left to hang 200 feet below the ocean’s surface for up to 12 hours. At the same time the nets ensnare their targeted catch, they also entangle large open ocean travelers like whales, dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles.
In the morning, when the nets are pulled from the water onto the fishing boats, they hold exceptionally high numbers of dead and dying animals that are ultimately thrown back to the sea (called bycatch). A 2018 National Marine Fisheries Service study estimates that despite existing conservation measures, between 2001 and 2016 the California drift gillnet fishery captured 1,602 protected marine species including large whales, sea turtles, dolphins, seabirds, seals and sea lions. During this time the fishery has also captured tens of thousands of non-target fish including rare sharks, rays, marlin and ocean sunfish. Many of these animals are tossed back dead or dying.
A sample of disturbing photographs showing some of the species entangled and killed by swordfish drift gillnets off California can be viewed here. On average, more than half of the total catch (individuals, not weight) is tossed overboard. The nets inflict such devastation to marine life that they have earned the name “Walls of Death.”
With the havoc this fishing gear is inflicting on our ocean’s diverse marine life, Oceana and our partners have successfully convinced California decision makers to phase out and prohibit swordfish drift gillnets and replace them with cleaner gears that can selectively target swordfish such as deep-set buoy gear. Commercial and experimental deep-set buoy gear trials off California have demonstrated that this fishing method is a responsible and economically feasible alternative to using drift gillnets for catching swordfish. Read the latest published study on the profitability and effectiveness of deep-set buoy gear here.
For more detailed information about the drift gillnet fishery click here.
In 2017, Oceana filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service's withdrawal of a proposed rule to implement limits on the numbers of protected species that can be injured or killed by swordfish drift gillnets. In October 2018, the federal court ruled in favor of Oceana, requiring the government to finalize the original proposed rule or develop a revised rule. The government appealed the ruling, but subsequently dropped the appeal in April 2019, so the ruling stands. Read the complaint here and the ruling here.
Kate Mara alongside Oceana is speaking up to save whales and get swordfish drift gillnets out of the water. Click here to hear from Kate.
view the infographic here
view the infographic here
view the infographic here
Drift Gill Net Photos
Benefits of Deep-set Buoy gear
drift gill net fact sheet
Support for Cleaner Fishing Gears
What Oceana Does?
Ending “Walls of Death”
Oceana is committed to protecting marine life like magnificent sperm whales, powerful Pacific white-sided dolphins, and iconic Pacific leatherback sea turtles, and has passed California legislation to end swordfish drift gillnets once and for all. The Pacific Fishery Management Council—a 14-member advisory body—voted at its September 2015 meeting to place the first ever limits, called hard caps, on the numbers of nine protected species that can be injured or killed by swordfish drift gillnets. The hard caps rule would have applied to endangered fin, humpback, and sperm whales; short-fin pilot whales, and common bottlenose dolphins; as well as endangered leatherback, loggerhead, olive ridley, and green sea turtles, and would have required an immediate closure of the fishery if a hard cap were met or exceeded for any of these species. The National Marine Fisheries Service issued a proposed rule to implement the caps in October 2016. In an unprecedented move, however, the Fisheries Service withdrew the proposed rule on June 12, 2017. On July 12, 2017, Oceana filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the withdrawal of the rule. The court ruled in Oceana’s favor in October 2018.
Safeguarding Marine Life while Ensuring Domestic Fisheries
Large-mesh drift gillnet fisheries targeting swordfish have been completely phased out in all other coastal states and U.S. waters, as well as all international waters, the entire Mediterranean Sea, and waters off Russia and many other countries. As a result of concerns over bycatch, both Washington and Oregon have prohibited their fishermen from using drift gillnets, leaving California as the only West Coast state still allowing this destructive fishing gear. History has shown that catching swordfish with harpoons is feasible, has virtually no bycatch, and earns a substantially higher price per pound for catch at the dock. Commercial trials with deep-set buoy gear demonstrate this new, innovative gear can profitably catch swordfish with minimal bycatch, and that the catch sells for nearly double the price of drift gillnet-caught. It is time to remove the “Walls of Death” from our California coast and move to more responsible, selective fishing gears in order to ensure a vibrant, healthy, sustainable marine ecosystem and ocean-based economy into the future. Oceana is also working to prevent the re-introduction of harmful pelagic longlines off California, another destructive, high-bycatch fishing method that has been banned off California to protect marine life and recreational fisheries.