New Legislation Seeks to Protect California’s Ocean Biodiversity - Oceana USA

New Legislation Seeks to Protect California’s Ocean Biodiversity

Press Release Date: February 8, 2024



Ashley Blacow | email: | tel: Ashley Blacow

Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-Ventura) introduced Assembly Bill 2220 to reduce injury and death to a suite of marine life in the state’s set gillnet fishery, while removing exemptions in current law that allow these nets to catch and keep protected species like great white sharks and giant seabass. AB 2220 is co-sponsored by Oceana and Resource Renewal Institute.

Whales, sea lions, sharks, and other fish are entangled and struggle in set gillnets meant to catch California halibut and white seabass. These nearly invisible nets stretch upwards of a mile in length—20 football fields long and are weighted to the seafloor. In April 2023, Oceana and Turtle Island Restoration Network released a report which found that more than half of the animals caught in the net’s clutches are thrown overboard as waste, among the highest rate of ocean animals discarded in any fishery in the state. This raises concerns for dozens of sensitive marine species for which the population status is unknown—particularly for rays, skates, and sharks — as well as protected species like great white sharks and giant seabass.

“There are alternative methods of fishing proven to diminish harm on marine life, reduce bycatch, while producing higher quality seafood. AB 2220 aligns Southern California waters with Northern California by prohibiting gillnets in all ocean waters of the state, broadening protections for marine life and encouraging sustainable practices for all who enjoy and make a living from our ocean,” said Assemblymember Bennett.

“The diversity of ocean life off California rivals any other place around the globe, but the state’s set gillnet fishery is threatening the very ocean animals that support a healthy ocean ecosystem, drive tourism, support robust fisheries, and are valued by Californians,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director and senior scientist. “Californians have already said they don’t want these nets off our shores, having voted to ban them more than 30 years ago. We commend Assemblymember Bennett for championing AB 2220 to protect ocean biodiversity which will have major benefits for the oceans and Californians.”

“California is perceived as a world leader when it comes to protecting the ocean,” said Scott Webb, Advocacy and engagement director for Resource Renewal Institute. “Set gillnets have been deemed a threat to our state’s biodiversity for over one hundred years, and with the encroaching effects of climate disruption, our seas are more vulnerable than ever. We urge the California legislature to walk the talk and pass AB 2220 to protect marine life for all Californians.”

 AB 2220 will protect ocean biodiversity by:

  • Removing an exemption in current law that allows the set gillnet fishery to incidentally catch and sell without catch limits great white sharks. While the targeted capture and sale of white sharks is prohibited in all commercial and recreational state fisheries, there are no limits on the incidental bycatch of these sharks in their nursery areas off Southern California for this fishery. These set gillnets catch more than 90 percent of the young great white sharks caught and thrown overboard in California fisheries, estimated by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2011 to be 25 white sharks per year.
  • Removing an exemption in current law that allows the fishery to incidentally catch and sell giant seabass—a fish that can weigh more than 500 pounds and reigned over California’s kelp forests until it was overfished in the 1900’s. Giant seabass are also prohibited species in all other commercial and recreational fisheries.
  • Extending the prohibition on the use of set gillnets in state waters by banning its use out to three miles from California’s Channel Islands, which are widely recognized as a biodiversity hotspot in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Making set gillnet permits non-transferable.
  • Giving authority to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to require third-party observers on state fisheries. These observers accurately count and record everything that is caught, filling in critical information gaps. This will enable California to better manage set gillnets and other state commercial fisheries benefiting its ability to ensure resilient fisheries.

Certain aspects of the set gillnet fishery are managed under the authority of the California Fish and Game Commission. This legislation addresses management issues outside the Commission’s authority.


California set gillnets were originally banned in Northern California waters back in 1915. California voters passed Proposition 132 in 1990, which prohibited the use of set gillnets within state waters off the Southern California mainland (0-3 nautical miles) and within one mile of offshore islands. In the late 1990s, scientists discovered set gillnets were also killing an alarming number of federally protected marine mammals and seabirds. In response, the California Fish and Game Commission banned the use of these nets off the Central California Coast in 2002. Due to the complexities of these various actions, most Californians are unaware that while set gillnets are banned in state waters off the Southern California mainland (0-3 nautical miles), they are still being used in federal waters, offshore banks, and in state waters around California’s Channel Islands, with continued high rates of bycatch. More selective hook and line fishing methods are already well-established for catching California halibut and white seabass that have significantly less bycatch and typically yields higher prices for fish considered better quality seafood.

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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-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 275 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, 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.

The Resource Renewal Institute (RRI) is a 40-year Marin County-based environmental non-profit that combines education, advocacy, organizational development, and sustainability analysis to leverage the global adoption of long-term environmental management strategies to benefit natural resources, wildlife, and society.