Thanks to campaigning and legal work by Oceana and our allies, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published a final rule that will finally curtail the destructive California-based swordfish drift gillnet fishery. However, Oceana’s and your work is not yet done as the U.S. government appears to be intent on sustaining this destructive fishery – the last of its kind in the country.
The drift gillnets used to catch swordfish in this fishery are referred to as “walls of death” because they also indiscriminately capture marine mammals like whales, dolphins, and sea lions as well as endangered sea turtles, sharks, and other important fish species. Marine life swim into mile-long nets – nearly the length of the Golden Gate Bridge – becoming entangled. Whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, and others that need to surface to breathe drown. Sharks and other fish that need to swim to push oxygen through their gills suffocate. For years, the fishery killed more dolphins than all other U.S. West Coast and Alaska fisheries combined.
Under the newly published final rule, the government must shut down the fishery for the remainder of the fishing season if two or more of any one of nine highly vulnerable species are observed to be injured or killed. These hard cap protections intend to prevent harm of at-risk species and incentivize fishers to switch to cleaner fishing methods such as deep-set buoy gear, which avoids unnecessary and destructive bycatch.
As of now, the fishery will reopen in May, and unfortunately, NMFS has signaled that they will work to undermine these critical hard cap protections.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council first decided to address the issues in this fishery in 2015 in response to pressure from a coalition of fishermen, members of the public, state wildlife agencies, Oceana, and other environmental groups. NMFS then refused to implement the subsequent recommendations from the Council, and Oceana filed a lawsuit to hold the agency accountable. In October 2018, a federal court ruled in Oceana’s favor, and still NMFS refused to comply. So, Oceana pursued additional legal action, and last month we won yet again, bringing us to this point.
In addition to pursuing legal action, Oceana also campaigned for both state and federal policies to transition this wasteful fishery to cleaner methods. We mobilized grassroots activists to help pass a 2018 California law that will phase out the use of large-mesh drift gillnet fishing for swordfish off the West Coast, establish a buyout program, and incentivize the use of more sustainable alternative fishing gear. We also helped introduce federal legislation currently under consideration in both chambers of the U.S. Congress that seeks to phase out large mesh drift gillnet gear nationally. You can contact your members of Congress to support this legislation.
I share this important and long sought campaign victory with you today as further evidence that – despite the odds or opponent – Oceana and our allies find a way to win meaningful, science-based, policy outcomes for our oceans. Together, we can stop destructive fishing and help to restore ocean abundance and biodiversity for future generations.