Last weekend, PBS NewsHour Weekend Edition aired a feature story on Oceana’s campaign to end drift gillnet use off California. This commercial fishery sets out mile-long nets at dusk to catch swordfish and thresher sharks, but these nets also capture an abundance of other marine wildlife—including whales, dolphins, sea lions, sharks, and other ecologically and economically important fish. In fact, the fishery throws overboard 61 percent of everything it catches.*
The PBS feature includes interviews with Oceana California campaign director Geoff Shester, world-renowned marine biologist Barbara Block, fishermen, and others. The segment describes how the waters off of California, Oregon, and Washington are the aquatic equivalent of Africa’s Serengeti due to the sheer diversity of marine life. Barbara Block describes how blue whales, great white sharks, bluefin tuna, and elephant seals are akin to the lions, gazelles, and crocodiles that roam the Serengeti, making the California Current ocean ecosystem the Blue Serengeti.
But the Blue Serengeti is impacted by drift gillnets.
Regarding ocean waters off California, “In terms of the known deaths and mortalities to a lot of these iconic species, whether you’re talking about large sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and whales, I’m not aware of a single other activity that humans are doing that is actually causing the direct death of such a large suite and number of animals,” said Shester in the segment.
Neither Washington or Oregon permit their fishermen to use drift gillnets, leaving California as the only West Coast state that allows these deadly nets to be used . The segment aired just before the Pacific Fishery Management Council, meets this weekend to discuss moving beyond these deadly nets to cleaner alternatives.
Oceana has requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service and the regional Pacific Fishery Management Council to eliminate wasteful drift gillnets. Our advocacy reached a pivotal point this past spring, when the Pacific Fishery Management Council shifted its long-running conversation about expanding the use of drift gillnets to now developing a “comprehensive plan to transition the current drift gillnet fishery to a fishery utilizing a suite of more environmentally and economically sustainable gear types.” You can learn more here.
Take a look below to see PBS’s feature on drift gillnets. If you’d like to view a PBS compilation of more of the photographs documenting injured and killed wildlife (warning: graphic images) that Oceana obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, click here.
* According to a six-year average of most data from the National Marine Fisheries Service.