Today, the California Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife took the first step to prohibit the use of deadly drift gillnets in waters off California in order to protect some of the ocean’s most iconic wildlife. The 15-member Committee passed Assembly Bill 2019, legislation co-sponsored by Oceana and Turtle Island Restoration Network. The bill will eliminate drift gillnet gear used to catch swordfish and thresher sharks off California, while replacing the nets with cleaner, more sustainable gear types.
Since their use began in the early 1980s, drift gillnets have entangled, injured, and killed thousands of marine animals off California as bycatch, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, seals, porpoises, sea lions, ocean sunfish, marlins, large sharks, and many other iconic species. With cleaner, more humane ways of catching swordfish and thresher sharks available, it’s time to get these destructive nets out of the water.
Ocean waters off California, Oregon, and Washington are part of the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem which is one of the most productive and diverse marine ecosystems in the world. Some leading scientists even call it the “Blue Serengeti of the Sea”. These waters are an ocean highway for awe-inspiring animals like humpback and sperm whales, leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles, sea lions, elephant seals, and numerous dolphin species. Sadly, drift gillnets used to catch swordfish and thresher sharks continue to entangle and kill these and other important ocean animals. These marine animals cannot see these invisible nets which are a mile-long, more than 200 feet deep, and set at night. When the nets are pulled onto fishing vessels in the morning they contain unacceptably high levels of “bycatch”, or untargeted species that are thrown overboard.
Over the last six years, 61 percent of the marine animals caught in these nets were discarded at sea. In 2011, for every five swordfish landed by drift gillnets, one marine mammal was killed and six fish (including sharks and tunas) were tossed overboard, clearly dead or dying.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Oceana obtained more than 400 images of marine life injured and killed off California from drift gillnet entanglement. You can view a sample of the images here, which show the disturbingly wasteful nature of drift gillnets.
Oceana is working with a diverse set of supporting organizations and legislative members to get these nets off the water for good. California is the last place on the West Coast that allows this destructive gear to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. Oregon and Washington already prohibit their fishermen from using drift gillnets due to concerns over bycatch. AB 2019 will allow fishermen to continue to catch swordfish and thresher sharks, but with hand-held hook and line or harpoon fishing gears, which are proven to be clean and sustainable. Additionally, experiments are currently being conducted on new fishing gears that effectively target swordfish and thresher sharks while maintaining lower bycatch levels.
AB 2019 will next be heard in the Assembly Committee on Appropriations, where it must pass before going to the full 80-member Assembly.
Thank you to everyone who joined our online petition…more than 81,000 of you!
If you haven’t yet signed on and would like to support our efforts to protect ocean wildlife by eliminating drift gillnets and replacing them with cleaner gear, please join our petition. There’s still time!
Stay tuned for updates as this legislation moves through the capitol.