Federal Fisheries Managers Vote to Clean Up Swordfish Drift Gillnet Fishery
The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to clean up California’s swordfish drift gillnet fishery by considering placing the first ever “hard caps” on the numbers of several protected species that can be injured or killed in the fishery. These species include fin, humpback, and sperm whales and leatherback, loggerhead, Olive ridley, and green sea turtles. The Council will make a final decision on hard caps in the fall for implementation in next year’s fishing season. The Council also set a target to require 100 percent monitoring so that all catch and bycatch is counted on every trip no later than the summer of 2016. Additionally, federal fisheries managers will consider bycatch reduction alternatives for all other marine mammals, sharks, and fish species that are discarded in the fishery.
Emergency Regulations Renewed to Protect Sperm Whales from California Fishery
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced emergency actions designed to protect endangered sperm whales from being caught in the California swordfish/thresher shark drift gillnet fishery. The regulations state the NMFS will shut down California’s drift gillnet swordfish fishery if a single endangered sperm whale is killed or injured by the destructive nets. Independent observers will now be aboard all drift gillnet vessels operating in offshore waters deeper than 6,500 feet (2,000 meters), where sperm whales are most often observed. The ruling also requires fishing vessels to carry vessel monitoring systems that track the real-time locations of all drift gillnet vessels off the U.S. West Coast.
Fishery Management Council Rejects Proposal to Expand Drift Gillnets
The Pacific Fishery Management Council decided to cease consideration of a proposal to expand the use of deadly drift gillnets off California and instead requested extension of emergency regulations that went into effect last year to protect endangered sperm whales from entrapment in drift gillnets, until permanent protections are implemented. Oceana provided testimony at the meeting and is co-sponsoring the bill to eliminate these mile-long ‘walls of death’ off California and replace them with cleaner and more selective gear types to ensure a vibrant, healthy, sustainable marine ecosystem and ocean-based economy into the future. This bill will prohibit the use of drift gillnets to take swordfish or sharks while allowing continued fishing for swordfish and sharks with hand-held hook and lines, harpoons, and experimental gears. The bill also establishes a new state policy to support a federal prohibition on drift gillnets off the U.S. West Coast. This effort is long overdue.
The California Senate designated the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle as California’s official state marine reptile and declare October 15 every year as Leatherback Conservation Day. Oceana was a sponsor and supporter of the bill, and generated statewide support from thousands of California citizens and more than 30 conservation entities including the California Fish and Game Commission. The bill is intended to recognize the importance of California state waters to the survival and recovery of this ancient sea turtle species.
The National Marine Fisheries Service finalized protection of 41,914 square miles of protected critical ocean habitat off the shores of Washington, Oregon and California for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle. The final rule establishes critical habitat in areas where leatherbacks feed on jellyfish after swimming 6,000 miles across the ocean from nests in Indonesia. This is the first permanent safe haven for leatherbacks designated in continental U.S. waters and is the largest area set aside to protect sea turtle habitat in the United States or its territories.
The final protection comes in response to a petition submitted in 2007 by Oceana, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center, followed by two years of delay by the agency, missing multiple legal deadlines specified in the Endangered Species Act.