Oceana Opposes Federal Proposal That Will Allow Endangered Whales to be Injured and Killed in the California Drift Gillnet Fishery - Oceana USA

Oceana Opposes Federal Proposal That Will Allow Endangered Whales to be Injured and Killed in the California Drift Gillnet Fishery

Press Release Date: January 20, 2022

Location: Monterey, CA


Jamie Karnik, Ashley Blacow | email: jkarnik@oceana.org, ablacow@oceana.org | tel: Jamie Karnik, Ashley Blacow

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposes issuing an incidental take permit for the California swordfish drift gillnet fishery which would legally allow endangered whales to be injured or killed due to being entangled in the mile-long nets. Oceana strongly opposed the proposed permit in a letter to NMFS this week, as California’s swordfish fishery has proven it cannot operate cleanly and alternative fishing gear is available that successfully and profitably catches swordfish while avoiding harm to marine mammals and sea turtles.

According to preliminary NMFS data, two humpback whales were observed entangled in drift gillnets in 2021. Based on this and the level of observer coverage, Oceana estimates approximately 12 humpback whales were entangled in these nets over the last two fishing seasons. A recent analysis by Oceana found rampant underreporting of incidents of harm to marine life on trips without a fisheries observer on board. There are currently no hard limits on the number of endangered whales or turtles that the fishery can catch, despite recommendations from the Pacific Fishery Management Council to set caps on how many whales, turtles, and dolphins the fishery could harm before being shut down.

“It’s time for the use of destructive drift gillnets to end,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California campaign director and senior scientist for Oceana. “Rather than issuing permits for California’s swordfish fishery to seriously injure or kill even more endangered species, the federal government should be getting these nets off the water and focusing its attention on supporting more selective ways to fish, including deep-set buoy gear, which will allow for a thriving swordfish fishery and safer passage for animals as they swim and migrate off our shores.”

In September 2018, California enacted state legislation to phase out the use of large-mesh drift gillnets fishing for swordfish through a transition program that incentivizes fishermen to switch to deep-set buoy gear. Twenty-eight of the 32 active drift gillnet fishermen have agreed to participate in the program, and at least 20 miles of drift gillnets have been turned in for destruction and recycling into other products.

The U.S. House of Representatives is currently considering the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act (H.R. 404) which would phase out large-scale drift gillnets nationwide. A companion bill passed the Senate last year. The U.S. West Coast is the last place in the U.S. that still allows drift gillnets to catch swordfish, and large-scale drift gillnets are prohibited on the high seas and in many other countries.

For more information about Oceana’s campaign to protect whales, sea turtles, and other ocean animals by transitioning away from deadly 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 over 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 usa.oceana.org to learn more