Federal Judge Orders Fishery Managers to Implement Long-Overdue Protections for Whales, Sea Turtles - Oceana USA

Federal Judge Orders Fishery Managers to Implement Long-Overdue Protections for Whales, Sea Turtles

Latest Ruling Requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to Implement Protective Measures in the Swordfish Drift Gillnet Fishery within 30 days

Press Release Date: January 9, 2020

Location: Los Angeles, CA


Dustin Cranor, APR | email: dcranor@oceana.org | tel: 954.348.1314


Judge Klausner ruled late yesterday  in federal court that the National Marine Fisheries Service’s continued delay in implementing strict limits —known as hard caps— on the number of whales, sea turtles and dolphins that can be killed in the California based swordfish drift gillnet fishery violates the law. The ruling calls upon NMFS to finalize regulations within thirty days of the court order, after more than four years since the original protections were proposed by regional fishery managers.

Judge Klausner previously ruled in Oceana’s favor in October 2018 after the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to implement the protections approved by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The continued inaction and refusal by NMFS to comply with the court’s order led Oceana in November 2019 to once again request the court intervene.

“Ignoring a court order—and a clear legal requirement—is frustrating, irresponsible, and absolutely unlawful,” said Tara Brock, Oceana’s pacific counsel. “NMFS’s continued inaction places vulnerable species at increased risk of entanglement in drift gillnets and undermines the public process that led to these protections. The court’s ruling affirms NMFS’s obligation to implement these important safeguards.”

After a multi-year process involving fishermen, state wildlife agencies, environmental groups and members of the public, the Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a new rule establishing hard caps on the number of deaths permitted in the drift gillnet fishery for nine highly vulnerable species.

The drift gillnet fishery, which uses mile-long nets to catch swordfish and thresher sharks, is one of the nation’s dirtiest fisheries and has long been controversial for the devastation it inflicts on ocean wildlife. The state of California recently passed a law to phase out drift gillnets in California, and similar legislation is also under consideration in the U.S. Congress.

The proposed hard caps rule was intended to provide incentives to avoid catching highly vulnerable species, and to switch to cleaner fishing methods such as deep-set buoy gear, an innovative new fishing gear that catches swordfish with minimal harm to other animals.

“It is illogical to continue propping up an indiscriminate fishery that throws away more marine life than it keeps when there are better ways to catch swordfish without the collateral damage associated with drift gillnets,” said Brock.  “NMFS’s continued foot dragging is simply unacceptable, especially considering we’re talking about some of the world’s most remarkable–and most endangered–marine species.”

Oceana is represented by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

For more information about swordfish drift gillnets and gear alternatives visit www.oceana.org/stopthenets

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 200 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that one billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit www.oceana.org to learn more.