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Facts about Drift Gillnet Bycatch

When a sea turtle, sea lion, or whale swims into a drift gillnet, it becomes entangled in the net’s mesh walls, leaving it incapacitated and unable to surface for air. When these nets are pulled from the water and onto the fishing boats in the morning, they contain disturbing and unacceptably high numbers of dead and dying species of marine life.

This fishery’s high level of indiscriminate catch of non-targeted species results in the deaths of over a hundred marine mammals per year; also killed and injured are endangered Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, striped marlin, albacore tuna, blue sharks, bigeye thresher sharks, and great white sharks.

This fishery actually discards more large sharks than swordfish caught, plus:

  • In the 2010–2011 season, over 27 common molas, commonly called ocean sunfish, were discarded for every swordfish caught.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service estimates drift gillnets took 16 endangered sperm whales in 2010 alone.
  • From May 1, 2008 to January 31, 2009 over 4,800 fish were returned to the sea dead or dying including over a thousand sharks of various species, tunas and others fishes.

In addition, observer coverage on drift gillnet vessels has been less than 20% in recent years, with almost half the fleet going without observation. This means far more bycatch is occurring than what is being reported.

Examples of bycatch species documented from the drift gillnet fishery includes:


fin whales
leatherback sea turtles
loggerhead sea turtles
Risso’s dolphins
Dall’s porpoises
Pacific white-sided dolphins
Northern right whale dolphins
Pacific electric rays


short-finned pilot whales
humpback whales
minke whales
sperm whales
California sea lions
Northern elephant seals
blue sharks
salmon sharks


bigeye thresher sharks
striped marlin
albacore tuna
mola molas
white sharks
basking sharks
megamouth sharks
short-and-long-beaked common dolphins