Drift Gillnets: Overview
In the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast, mile-long driftnets are used to capture swordfish and thresher sharks. But that’s not all they catch. When the nets are deployed in the evenings to soak overnight to ensnare their targeted catch, they also entangle large open ocean travelers like whales and sea turtles.
In the morning, when the nets are pulled from the water onto the fishing boats they contain disturbing and unacceptably high numbers of dead and dying animals—including whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles, numerous shark species and many other ecologically and economically important fish—as bycatch. For example, in 2011 for every five swordfish landed one marine mammal was killed and six fish including sharks and tunas were tossed overboard dead or dying. The nets inflict such devastation to marine life that they have earned the name “Walls of Death.”
As a result of concerns over bycatch, both Washington and Oregon have prohibited their fishermen from using drift gillnets, leaving California as the only West Coast state still allowing this destructive fishing gear.
Oceana has been fighting since 2006 to protect open ocean marine life from the perils of these dangerous nets. With the havoc this fishing gear is inflicting on our ocean’s diverse marine life Oceana urges that drift gillnets be phased out and replaced with cleaner gears that demonstrate responsible fishing and have been proven to be economically feasible such as harpoons.