Last week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council rejected a proposal to expand the use of drift gillnets off California. The decision was paired with a request to extend emergency regulations to protect sperm whales from entrapment in drift gillnets until permanent protections go into effect. The meeting in Sacramento drew unusually high numbers of public comments, including more than 40,000 written comments from Oceana supporters alone. It's a step in the right direction when it comes to getting the destructive form of fishing gear out of California waters. However, while their expansion is no longer on the table at this point, drift gillnets are still used, entangling a myriad of marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks and recreationally important fish.
Once entangled in these nets, the animals become critically injured, often unable to surface for air, and most eventually drown. Between May 2007 to January 2012, the drift gillnet fishery discarded 63 percentt of all marine animals it caught. “The Council took the right action by finally throwing out a proposal to expand the use of deadly drift gillnets into critical habitat for endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles, a conservation area that is working,” said Ben Enticknap, Oceana senior scientist. “However, the fact that these invisible nets still take these magnificent sea turtles—in addition to over a hundred marine mammals and thousands of other fish annually—means the real answer is getting these nets off the water altogether.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to picture the scope of these nets and how they catch, injure, and kill the ocean creatures we love. These nets are cast out below the surface, over vast areas of water. Check out the infographic above to see the scale of drift gillnets’ damage.