The Beacon

Gillnets in the Pacific

Some fishing gear is so devastating to marine wildlife that the nations of the world agree they should not be used. Large drift gillnets fall into this category, and the United Nations banned their use on the high seas in 1991.

Sadly, smaller legal drift gillnets in United States waters have many unintended victims, among them endangered and threatened sea turtles. Indeed, like us, a sea turtle entangled underwater in a gillnet can drown in just minutes.

No wonder some people call these gillnets "curtains of death."

All drift gillnets - even "smaller" legal ones - are made of plastic mesh panels that stretch for hundreds of yards, and are allowed to drift at sea for long periods of time, capturing anything that comes their way. Because of the non-selective manner in which they work, this is one of the most wasteful and dirty ways to catch fish.

The U.S. has closed or limited use of drift nets in specific areas in federal waters. This has proven to be effective in protecting sea turtles. Take, for example, a swordfish fishery along the California and Oregon coast.  For a 3-month period every year since 2001, drift gillnets have been banned north of Point Conception, California. No leatherback sea turtles have been reported killed in drift gillnets since the time and area closure was enacted.

Sea turtles aren't the only animals affected. Since 2002, 64 dolphins, whales, seals and sea lions have been killed by the drift gillnet fishery. Additionally, seabirds including Northern fulmars and Cassin's auklet have been injured or killed. Fish populations themselves are seriously harmed when too many of the wrong fish are caught in this indiscriminate way.

But incredibly, earlier this month the government agency in charge of setting the rules for the commercial fishing industry in the Pacific voted to allow drift gillnets to be used in that protected area along the California and Oregon coastline. The proposed exemption to the existing rules would allow as many as two thirds of the 36 vessels in the drift gillnet fishery into previously closed areas.

This decision is unscientific and short-sighted.

You and I don't want these magnificent creatures to disappear. Oceana's Stop Dirtyfishing Campaign is working to restore these essential protections for sea turtles and other ocean wildlife threatened by drift gillnets.  Stay tuned...Oceana will be working with the Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries to find a solution to this destructive fishery.


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