Legislators Urge Approval of Alternative to Harmful Drift Gillnet Fishing Method

Monday, February 29, 2016


Sacramento, CA – A group of seven legislators spearheaded by Senator Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica) sent a letter today urging federal officials to take the next step toward discontinuing the use of drift gillnets (DGN) off the California coast.  In a letter to Dorothy Lowman, the chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and William Stelle, the administrator for the Northwest Region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the legislators urged the authorization of an alternative fishing method, deep-set buoy gear (DSBG), for swordfish fishing.

California is the last state on the West Coast that still allows the use of harmful drift gillnets in its swordfish fishery.  The deep-set buoy gear under consideration by federal fisheries regulators could be used as an alternative to drift gillnets that are responsible for the death and injury of thousands of individual members of many marine species.

“We know it is technically possible to harvest seafood off our coast without the tragic loss of marine life, and now is the time for regulators and the fishing industry to transition to a proven, sustainable method,” Allen said.

Large scale drift gillnets have been banned on the high seas, in all other states, and in many countries worldwide because of the unavoidable impacts on marine wildlife, including whales, dolphins, sharks, pinnipeds, and sea turtles.  Many marine species harmed by the drift gillnet fishery are protected under state and federal law or covered under international agreements, such as the sperm whale, leatherback sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, common thresher shark, Bigeye thresher shark, smooth hammerhead shark, scalloped hammerhead shark, shortfin mako shark and longfin mako shark.

Drift gillnets were responsible for the death of an estimated 16 endangered sperm whales in the last decade.  An estimated 22 leatherback turtles (an endangered species) and loggerhead sea turtles also have been caught. If more than one leatherback is killed in a 6 year period from any human activity, the entire population is at risk. One leatherback was killed in 2015, and given the DGN fleet caught four leatherback turtles in 2013 alone, the continued operation of the DGN fishery increases the risk that we will exceed the six year cap on leatherback turtle mortalities and jeopardize the entire population. There are only about 1438 of the species left, and they could go extinct by 2030.  In the last decade, 15 megamouth sharks have been caught.  These are a critically-endangered species with only 100 left worldwide.  885 other marine mammals have been killed by drift gillnets in the last decade.

According to data collect by NOAA’s observation program, California’s drift gillnet fishery kills or injures approximately seven times more whales and dolphins than all other observed fisheries in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska combined, and 13 times more than any other single observed fishery on the West Coast.

Deep set buoy gear has been deployed on the east coast and experimentally in California where it has proven to be among the most sustainable methods to catch swordfish.  The Pacific Fishery Management Council tentatively scheduled action on DSBG at its March, June and September meetings (the approval process takes place over three meetings), and if adopted, the safer gear could be in use in 2016.

Joining Senator Allen in sending the letter to federal fisheries regulators were Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Assemblymember Richard Bloom, Assemblymember Marc Levine, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, Assemblymember Kevin Mullin, and Assemblymember Mark Stone.

#  #  #