Stop West Coast Driftnet Fishing

Trump Vetoes the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, a law that would have provided funds for fishers to transition to more sustainable fishing methods with less bycatch of non-target species including thousands of West coast sharks.

After threat of legal action and five years of appeals, Federal Fisheries Managers recommended to stop this extremely harmful driftnet fishery in Federally controlled waters off California, Already illegal in California state waters since. the driftnet fishery is responsible for widespread destruction of marine wildlife including whales, seabirds and thousands of sharks and rays. In July 2020, the Senate passed the ‘Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act’’ amending the US Magnuson Stevens Act to protect marine life off the California coastline.

This hard won legislation, forwarded to the President’s desk for signature, would ban harmful gear set for Swordfish but responsible for killing at least 60 other marine species – including whales, dolphins, sea lions,sharks and sea turtles.  Large mesh drift gillnets are already banned in the U.S. territorial waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii.

“California’s coast is one of the last places where large mesh drift gillnets are still used to catch swordfish, resulting in needless deaths of whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles and other marine animals,” “We are now one step closer to removing these nets from our waters. There is no reason to allow the carnage of large mesh drift gillnets when there are better, more sustainable methods to catch swordfish. We can preserve the economically important swordfishing industry while protecting the ocean and its wildlife that are vital to California’s economy.”

 Bill Sponsor. Senator Dianne Feinstein.

In 2015, Shark Stewards joined with the Turtle Island Restoration Network to begin the process to eliminate this extremely harmful fishery from state waters. Focusing on sharks, we are continuing to monitor the committed ban on the use of driftnets off California waters, and the proposed shallow set longlines to save seabirds, mammals, sea turtles and sharks. Targeting swordfish, thresher and mako sharks, driftnets are mile long walls of meshed netting set adrift in California ocean waters. They are extremely harmful, as notoriously high numbers of sea animals, including protected species, such as dolphins, sea lions, and seabirds, are caught, killed, and thrown away by the driftnet fishery.

Entangled and Drowned Thresher Shark Images and text Turtle Island Restoration Network

Marine animals—including protected species, such as dolphins, sea lions, and seabirds—are routinely trapped and killed in the commercial fishing industry’s “driftnets.” For every swordfish caught by the driftnet fishery, an estimated seven other marine animals are entangled in nets and often injured or killed. And at least six endangered, threatened, or protected species are harmed by driftnets off the California coast.This loss of life is a massive threat to marine ecosystems

Driftnets are condemned by the United Nations and are already banned in many countries and US waters. The only driftnet fishery in the United States exists in federal waters off the coast of California.

swordfish driftnet
Entangled Swordfish Images and text Turtle Island Restoration Network

The effort began with litigation in 2000 that lead to a 250,000 square mile closure to protect endangered sea turtles. Turtle Island and its partners released gruesome footage from driftnet vessels showcasing the continued need to address the ongoing harm to wildlife. The video, which included footage of a bloodied, dead dolphin, garnered millions of views and spurred thousands to call for legislative action under the #BanDeathNets campaign.

Too many whales, too many dolphins, too many sharks are being killed for swordfish.This is a travesty that flies in the face of cooperation between fishermen, fisheries managers and conservationists to protect endangered species off our coastline. We must roll up our sleeves and reintroduce these protective measures and get them passed in 2021 before thousands more die needlessly.

David McGuire, Executive Director Shark Stewards

In September 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill (SB 1017) that will phase out the use of large-scale driftnets, beginning the end of driftnets in US waters. Shark Stewards has providing written and public comment to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council in San Diego in June of 2019 to eliminate this fishery from our coastline.