Conservation groups filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government under the Endangered Species Act today for authorizing California’s drift gillnet fishery, which has killed alarming numbers of endangered sperm whales in recent years. In addition to sperm whales, the fishery also kills endangered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles.
While most gillnets have been banned in California because of their deadly toll on endangered wildlife, the state’s drift gillnet fishery targeting swordfish and thresher shark continues to operate. Nets that stretch a mile are set to “soak” overnight, and catch and drown marine animals indiscriminately. On average more than 130 protected whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, as well as thousands of sharks and nontarget fish, are caught and discarded every year. The vast majority of those animals are dumped back into the ocean, dead or injured. Government observers documented the lethal take of two endangered sperm whales in 2010; since most entanglements go unreported, the government estimates 16 sperm whales were injured or killed in the fishery that year, exceeding what the population can withstand by more than tenfold.
“Deadly fishing nets are risking the future of large whales and sea turtles,” said Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Gillnets entangle everything in the sea, wasting sea life that’s precious to the balance of our oceans. It’s time to retire drift gillnets. They should belong to the past.”
“After over 30 years of experimentation, drift gillnets continue to have unacceptable levels of bycatch of our most treasured and vulnerable marine life,” said Oceana California Program Director Geoff Shester. “If we want to catch swordfish off our coast, we need to pursue fishing methods that are proven to be clean.”
“Curtains of death, in the form of the California driftnet fishery, should be abolished in California waters and need to be phased out as soon as possible,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of SeaTurtles.org. “Sea turtles, sharks and whales are all being hammered by this fishery that targets high-mercury seafood species that are largely unfit to eat.”
The notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service also seeks new analysis of the gillnet fishery’s impacts on sea turtles whose protections in California waters have been upgraded because of their imperiled status. This includes leatherback sea turtles off the California coast, with newly designated critical habitat and continued population declines through 2012, and loggerhead sea turtles in the Pacific, whose status has recently been upgraded from threatened to endangered because their population has declined by at least 80 percent over the past decade.
Today’s notice of intent to sue is a legal prerequisite to filing a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. To learn more, please visit www.biologicaldiversity.org.
SeaTurtles.org is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 35,000 members and supporters work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. To learn more, please visit www.SeaTurtles.org.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 550,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.