Oceana Delivers $1 Million to End California’s Deadly Drift Gillnet Fishery - Oceana USA

Oceana Delivers $1 Million to End California’s Deadly Drift Gillnet Fishery

Removing Drift Gillnets Will Save Endangered Whales and Sea Turtles

Press Release Date: September 14, 2020

Location: Monterey, CA


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


Today, Oceana delivered $1 million to California to help end the state’s deadly drift gillnet fishery. The funds, which were 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, match the state’s contribution to fund a transition for fishermen who hand in their nets and relinquish their drift gillnet permits. These 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 whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, sharks and other important non-targeted fish species.

“We are absolutely thrilled at this news, especially after so many long-fought years of campaigning. It is a true blessing 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 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 commend local fishermen for being part of the solution and are glad to see them receive financial assistance during these challenging times.”

After years of campaigning by Oceana and others, California passed bipartisan legislation (S.B. 1017) authored by state Sen. Ben Allen in 2018 that established a transition program that provides financial compensation to drift gillnet fishermen who voluntarily turn in their permits and nets for destruction. Participating active drift gillnet fishermen receive $110,000 and become first in line for federal permits for deep-set buoy gear, a proven clean and profitable method for catching swordfish. Earlier this year, the California Ocean Protection Council allocated the first $1 million to the fund, making this opportunity available to drift gillnet fishermen on a first come, first served basis. Over 90% of the remaining active drift gillnet fishermen have indicated their willingness to participate in the program, and the first fishermen turned in their nets and permits in August 2020. 

Now that Oceana has deposited an additional $1 million in funding into the state account, California law activates a four-year phaseout of all remaining state drift gillnet permits, which will end any remaining drift gillnet fishing by January 31, 2024. California is the only state in the U.S. that still allows drift gillnets to catch swordfish. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife implements the transition program, and the fund is managed by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.

“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.”

There are two state-approved net destruction entities that will be collecting nets from participating fishermen and recycling them into a variety of products from sunglasses to skateboards. Oceana has also partnered with Gray Whale Gin to raise awareness about the fund.

Anyone who wishes to help complete the transition away from drift gillnets can make a tax-deductible donation at www.oceana.org/StopTheNetsDonate. Oceana transfers 100% of all donations received to the state transition fund.

Oceana continues to push for complementary federal legislation (S. 906) introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to end federal drift gillnet permits, which passed the U.S. Senate and is now in the U.S. House of Representatives. Oceana has also intervened in a federal lawsuit to maintain limits on the unintentional catch of whales and sea turtles during the transition period.

For more information about Oceana’s campaign to transition away from drift gillnets, please 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 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 www.usa.oceana.org to learn more.