Driftnet Fishing For Swordfish and Sharks Halted by Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission | Oceana

Driftnet Fishing For Swordfish and Sharks Halted by Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission

Press Release Date: December 16, 2009

Location: Salem, OR


Anna Baxter | email: abaxter@oceana.org
Anna Baxter

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Friday to stop issuing commercial fishing permits for drift gillnet gear used to target swordfish and thresher sharks in waters off the Oregon coast.  These expansive driftnets are known to ensnare and drown dolphins, sea lions, endangered sea turtles and other animals.  Friday’s decision means that the State of Oregon will no longer provide necessary State permits to Oregon-based fishermen wishing to use this gear, effectively ending this indiscriminate fishery in Pacific waters off Oregon.   


“We commend the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission for recognizing the threat of driftnets and acting with vision and responsibility to end this practice in Oregon,” said Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana.  “Driftnets are an outdated and outrageous way to try and catch swordfish, and it’s time we took them out of the ocean permanently.”


With last week’s decision, what was the federally managed California/ Oregon Drift Gillnet Fishery for swordfish and thresher sharks will now only be a California-based fishery.  This gear is not legal in Washington State.


Over 90 percent of the California and Oregon driftnet fishery for swordfish and thresher sharks takes place within federal waters south of Point Conception, California, but the fishery has occurred as far north as ocean waters off the Columbia River in Oregon.  In 2008 there were 46 active driftnet vessels out of 84 permits issued.  Only five of those permits were issued by Oregon, with no landings of swordfish or thresher shark reported in Oregon for the past eight years.


Driftnet fishing, using curtain-like nets up to a mile in length, takes and kills California sea lions, long-beaked common dolphins, Northern elephant seals, Northern right-whale dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, short-beaked common dolphins and short-finned pilot whales.  In addition, each year the fishery catches, and returns thousands of  dead or dying sharks, tunas and other fishes like mackerel, bonito and opah to the sea.


The action by the Fish and Wildlife Commission came as part of hearings to respond to the recent de-funding of the Developmental Fisheries Program by the Oregon legislature. The Developmental Fisheries Program was established in 1993 to allow the controlled development of new fisheries, and it included the swordfish driftnet fishery. 


In response to the funding cuts, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended the Commission continue to manage the driftnet fishery using Experimental Fishing Permits. Oceana’s Enticknap testified on the dangers of gillnets and asked the Commission to close this fishery.


“There’s no need for further experiment—we already know that drift gillnets have snared and drowned countless dolphins, sea lions, turtles and other animals,” said Enticknap.  “Giving an Experimental Fishing Permit to the driftnet fishery gives the word ‘experiment’ a bad name, and would be about money, not science.”