California Budget Includes Funding to Prevent Whales, Sea Turtles from Drowning in Deadly Drift Gillnets - Oceana USA

California Budget Includes Funding to Prevent Whales, Sea Turtles from Drowning in Deadly Drift Gillnets

Last Dollars Will Complete Transition to Cleaner, More Profitable Fishing Gear in California’s Swordfish Fishery by January of 2024

Press Release Date: June 29, 2021

Location: Sacramento, CA


Dustin Cranor, APR | email: | tel: 954.348.1314


California Governor Newsom has signed the 2021-2022 budget, which includes $1.3 million for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to complete the state’s transition away from deadly drift gillnets toward cleaner fishing gears to catch swordfish. Drift gillnets — which are a mile long, nearly invisible and set out overnight near the ocean’s surface to capture swordfish — are responsible for entangling, injuring, and killing hundreds of whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, and important non-targeted fish species.

According to Oceana and based on 2019 NOAA estimates, transitioning this California fishery from drift gillnets to more sustainable methods of fishing will save at least 27 whales, 548 dolphins, 333 seals and sea lions, 24 sea turtles and 70 seabirds over ten years. In addition, swordfish caught by more sustainable fishing methods are more sought after and can be worth almost twice as much as swordfish caught in drift gillnets.

“We are absolutely thrilled to know that our children and grandchildren will grow up with a California ocean free of deadly drift gillnets. We are so thankful to the legislature, Governor Newsom, and to donors who generously contributed funds toward this innovative transition program that will save whales, sea turtles and other ocean wildlife by removing harmful drift gillnets from our oceans and provide opportunities for California fishermen to catch swordfish with more selective methods like deep-set buoy gear,” said Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director. “We appreciate the hard work of Department of Fish and Wildlife staff, and we commend local fishermen for being part of the solution.”

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) helped champion the inclusion of this funding, which was also included in Governor Newsom’s May Revision. 

The approved budget fills a funding gap to complete the state drift gillnet transition program. Established by Senate Bill 1017 authored by Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) in 2018, the transition program assists fishermen in moving to more selective fishing gears to catch swordfish. Participating active drift gillnet fishermen receive $110,000 and become first in line for new federal deep-set buoy gear permits, an innovative technique that targets swordfish selectively and profitably without causing harm to marine mammals and sea turtles. SB 1017 required a combination of state and non-state funds; the California Ocean Protection Council allocated the first $1 million and in September 2020 Oceana delivered $1 million to help end the state’s deadly drift gillnet fishery, made possible by generous donations from the Marisla Foundation, Cinco Hermanos Fund, Offield Family Foundation, and Sue J. Gross Foundation, as well as several families and individuals. Oceana also partnered with Gray Whale Gin to raise awareness about the fund. The $1 million in matching funds raised by Oceana triggered a four-year phaseout of all remaining state drift gillnet permits by January 31, 2024 under California state law.

“Oceana is proud to be part of a collaborative partnership and solution to finally end the use of destructive drift gillnets off of California,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s deputy vice president for the Pacific. “This solution allows a safe landing for the fishermen while protecting countless whales, sea turtles, dolphins and other sea life from needless suffering and death.”

28 of the 32 active drift gillnet fishermen indicated their willingness to participate in the program and at least 15 miles of drift gillnets have already been turned in for destruction and recycling into other products. There are two state-approved net destruction entities that collect nets from participating fishermen for recycling.

For more information about Oceana’s campaign to transition away from drift gillnets, please visit

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-third of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 225 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit to learn more.