Seafood Watch “Green Lists” West Coast Swordfish Caught with Harpoons and Deep-Set Buoy Gear
Oceana Applauds “Best Choice” Rating for Fishing Gears that Provide Local Swordfish While Avoiding Harm to Whales, Sea Turtles, and Other Ocean Animals
Press Release Date: October 3, 2022
Location: Monterey, Calif
Today, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program added new fisheries to its “Green List” including West Coast swordfish caught with harpoons and deep-set buoy gear. The “Green List” includes recommendations for businesses and consumers based on seafood that is well managed and caught in ways that cause little harm to habitats or other wildlife. Oceana applauds the new recommendation as swordfish caught with harpoons and deep-set buoy gear provide a high quality product for consumers and give fishermen a higher price per pound for their catch, without the huge toll on marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks, rays, and other fish that happens with large mesh drift gillnets and pelagic longlines.
Deep-set buoy gear consists of a floating buoy supporting a single vertical line of baited hooks that is deployed during the day when swordfish feed at deeper depths than most other species. The buoys indicate when a fish has been caught, so fishermen can retrieve their catch within minutes of it being hooked. To catch swordfish with a harpoon, fishermen spot the swordfish finning, jumping, or basking near the surface, and strike the fish with a harpoon that is attached to a buoy. Both harpoon and deep-set buoy gear are highly selective methods for catching swordfish.
In contrast, mile-long large mesh drift gillnets and pelagic longlines are indiscriminate fishing gears. The drift gillnet fleet in particular throws overboard more ocean animals than the swordfish it keeps. Following years of experimental trials by fishermen and researchers at the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research, deep-set buoy gear is on its way to being authorized for commercial use off the West Coast following advocacy by Oceana and allies.
As of today, more than 25,000 restaurants, stores, and distributors — including Whole Foods, Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Cheesecake Factory, Compass Group, and ARAMARK — have committed to using Seafood Watch ratings to guide purchasing and menu choices.
Oceana’s Pacific policy and communications manager Ashley Blacow-Draeger released this statement following the announcement:
“A ‘best choice’ rating for deep-set buoy gear and harpoon caught swordfish is a significant step in supporting these clean California swordfish fisheries that avoid catching whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and a myriad of other marine life that swim in our waters. It is important for businesses and consumers to know that the seafood they are purchasing does not come from a fishery that harms other ocean animals. We applaud the Seafood Watch program for highlighting these sustainable swordfish fisheries.”
In recent decades large mesh drift gillnets have been the primary method that swordfish have been caught off California. Stretching the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, the mile-long nets are deployed at dusk and left to hang 200 feet below the ocean’s surface for up to 12 hours entangling large open ocean travelers like whales, dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles. More than half of what is caught is thrown overboard, often dead or dying. Oceana campaigns to transition the fishery to cleaner fishing gear, such as harpoons and deep-set buoy gear.
In 2018, following campaigning by Oceana and allies, California passed a law that established a transition program to compensate fishermen for turning in their permits and drift gillnets (which are destroyed and recycled into other products) and to incentivize the use of more-selective gear to catch swordfish. Oceana donors raised more than $1 million to match funds from the state of California, which in turn triggered California’s four-year phaseout period for all remaining state drift gillnet permits by January 31, 2024. To date, at least 20 miles of drift gillnets have been turned in for destruction and recycling into other products.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean, now and for future generations. Seafood Watch color-coded recommendations indicate which seafood items are best choices (green) or good alternatives (yellow), and which ones you should avoid (red). A wide range of retail, restaurant, and food service providers rely on Seafood Watch to inform seafood purchasing decisions, including some that have committed to not sell red-listed seafood.
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 USA.Oceana.org to learn more.