Fishery Council Approves Innovative, Sustainable Gear to Catch Swordfish off the West Coast - Oceana USA

Fishery Council Approves Innovative, Sustainable Gear to Catch Swordfish off the West Coast

Press Release Date: September 16, 2019

Location: Boise, ID


Dustin Cranor, APR | email: | tel: 954.348.1314


Today, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to legally authorize deep-set buoy gear—an innovative fishing gear design to successfully catch swordfish off the West Coast in a way that avoids deadly harm to marine mammals and sea turtles. Following more than eight years of advocacy in support of this specific advancement in sustainable fishing, Oceana applauds today’s action.

Swordfish off the California coast are currently caught using mile-long, large-mesh drift gillnets which are highly indiscriminate and wasteful.  More than half of what is caught using drift gillnets is thrown overboard—including other commercially important fish species, sharks, sea lions, dolphins, whales and many other animals. Deep-set buoy gear will provide an environmentally and financially superior alternative. 

A different form of buoy gear is used in the Atlantic Ocean and researchers and fishermen worked together to modify it for success in Pacific Ocean water conditions off the West Coast. For example, more than 98 percent of what fishermen caught with deep-set buoy gear under experimental research and commercial trials between 2011-2018, were marketable species. No deadly harm occurred to any marine mammals or sea turtles during that time, and the fishery was determined to be profitable based on swordfish catch rates, market prices, and fishing costs. Authorization of deep-set buoy gear may also provide fishermen with additional opportunities to fish in locations that are off limits to drift gillnets per existing regulations and where pelagic longlines—an equality wasteful gear as drift gillnets—are banned due to pervasive and harmful bycatch interactions. The action will enable fishermen in Northern California and Oregon to access swordfish with deep-set buoy gear.

The Council voted to issue an initial 50 non-transferable permits to fish deep set buoy gear off Southern California for fishermen who pioneered the gear and drift gillnet fishermen who surrender their drift gillnets and permits as part of California’s drift gillnet transition program.   After the initial issuance, there could be up to 25 additional permits issued annually with a total of up to 300 permits.  

Geoff Shester, California campaign director and senior scientist with Oceana, released the following statement in response to today’s decision:

“The last decade of research and data demonstrate that deep-set buoy gear successfully catches swordfish, avoids deadly harm to marine mammals and sea turtles, delivers a fresher quality product to the market and gets fishermen a much higher price for their catch. Authorizing deep-set buoy gear will create the opportunity for fishermen to provide a fresh and sustainably caught seafood product to our local markets to be enjoyed by residents and tourists alike.  Deep-set buoy gear will also help protect countless marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks and other commercially important fish species due to the design of the gear itself and the way it’s used helps avoid unintentionally hooking other ocean animals that fishermen aren’t targeting. We applaud the Pacific Fishery Management Council for voting to approve deep-set buoy gear and we hope the National Marine Fisheries Serve will add it to the list of approved fishing gear types and issue deep set buoy gear permits through their regulatory process as soon as possible.”

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 to learn more.