Off the coast of California, mile-long drift gillnets are left dangling in the ocean for hours as a part of the commercial swordfish and thresher shark fisheries. Unfortunately, these nets also entangle other animals that swim in their path, including endangered whales, white sharks, and sea turtles. The growing amout of so-called bycatch – the incidental entrapment and killing of non-targeted species – is a significant concern for our marine ecosystem. Heal the Bay and other NGOs are urging regulators to end this outdated and wasteful fishing method and support a better solution.
A healthy marine ecosystem is critical, both environmentally and economically in California. Given the indiscriminate nature of this type of fishing gear, the drift gillnet fishery should transition to alternative types of gear that are actively tended. We need to minimize interaction with the myriad species of fish and wildlife that characterize California’s diverse and vibrant marine ecosystem.
Harpoons were the dominant method of fishing for swordfish for most of the 20th century, until California approved the use of drift gillnets in the early 1980s. Leaving mile-long nets to drift in the current for hours at a time – especially in the biologically diverse and rich California Current — results in chronic problems with bycatch.
In March 2014, West Coast fishery managers agreed that it’s time to shift the drift gillnet fleet to more environmentally sustainable types of fishing gear. However, rather than following through and encouraging a transition to less-wasteful alternatives that include harpoon and buoy gear, fishery managers are sliding and discussing allowing the current drift gillnet fishery to continue indefinitely.
Even with stricter limits in place, fishery managers expect that drift gillnets will continue to kill numerous species of marine life every year, including whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, sea turtles, and several species of fish. We need to move away from drift gillnets when better, more selective alternatives exist.
Please act now. Members of the Pacific Fishery Management Council – an agency that oversees 119 species along the U.S. Pacific Coast – need to hear from you. Remind them of their commitment to shift away from drift gill nets to more selective fishing gear. If we are to enjoy abundant and healthy marine wildlife populations in the region, including swordfish, we need to encourage the Council to advance a transition to more sustainable gear in this fishery.
You can make your voice heard by clicking on this action alert.