The Pacific Fishery Management Council is currently considering changes to the drift gillnet fishery operating off California. One such proposal would allow the use of driftnets in an area called the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area (PLCA) where these destructive nets are currently prohibited.
The PLCA was established in 2001 specifically to protect endangered leatherback sea turtles from driftnets by prohibiting drift gillnet fishing in this area annually from August 15 through November 15. Oceana has been fighting to maintain these important protections since 2006.
Additionally, due to a petition submitted by Oceana and our partners in 2007, critical habitat was designated by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in January 2012, and 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 U.S. or its territories.
Ironically, proposals to expand drift nets into these the leatherback conservation areas come at the same time a new study has been published by the Ecological Society of America, documenting the persistent and long-term decline of western Pacific leatherback sea turtles. The findings indicate this population of ancient sea turtles, predating the dinosaurs, will go extinct within 20 years if current trends continue.
Additionally, NMFS recently discovered that loggerhead sea turtles are in bigger trouble than previously thought, and in 2012 uplisted their status from “threatened” to “endangered.” This is just one more reason why expanding a deadly fishery in the diverse ocean’s Blue Serengeti doesn’t make sense. NMFS has the legal responsibility to protect sea turtles, their habitat, and ensure the recovery of the species.
This is a time when we should be pushing for sustainable fisheries, not expanding a fishery with inexcusably high bycatch of critically important marine species. Oceana is committed to protecting the ocean’s open ocean marine life like the magnificent sperm whale, the powerful Pacific white-sided dolphin, and the iconic California sea lion, which is why we are continuing to urge federal fishery managers to phase out drift gillnets altogether.
The drift gillnet fishery is ultimately a declining industry, already phased out in many other coastal states across the west and east coast. History has shown that catching swordfish with harpoons is feasible, has virtually no bycatch, and results in a higher price per pound for catch at the dock. It is time to remove the “Walls of Death” from our California shoreline and move to cleaner fishing gears in order to ensure a vibrant, healthy, sustainable marine ecosystem and ocean-based economy into the future.