We have written before about the devastation that drift gillnets can cause for marine mammals and other threatened and imperiled aquatic species like sea turtles, sharks and many fish, especially in coastal California. Drift gillnets are long horizontal fishing nets that can be a mile long and 200-ft tall. Commercial fishermen use the nets to sweep through the ocean and end up collecting not only intended species of fish, but an abundance of other unintended sea life, known as “bycatch.” Whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and seals are just some of the species that get caught in the gillnets, entangled and very often suffocate and die as a result.
Right now, because of the high rate of bycatch that they cause, drift gill nets are banned elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest – in Oregon and Washington – as well as in parts of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Russia. Unfortunately, drift gillnets are still legal in California during certain times of the year.
But we have some promising news for the many species that are unnecessarily harmed by the use of gillnets. The Pacific Fishery Management Council set caps on the number of marine mammals that can be legally killed as bycatch by drift gillnet fishermen, and recently put swordfishermen on notice that they would be banned from the waters if they continue their negligent and harmful practices.
Defenders has been supporting multiple efforts to make California’s coastal waters safer for the many types of imperiled wildlife that rely on the ocean for survival. It is our goal to get drift gillnet fishing banned once and for all, and we will continue to work hard on advancing legislation that would require replacing the deadly gillnets with economically feasible fishing methods for the commercial fishing industry that are better for marine wildlife and will reduce bycatch.