Oceana Takes Action to Decrease Net Size and Soak Times in East Coast Gillnet Fisheries
Press Release Date: September 22, 2014
Gloucester, MA– Today, Oceana submitted a proposal to help end the wasted catch of fish and marine wildlife in New England and Mid-Atlantic gillnet fisheries, which throw away 16 percent of their total catch every year, according to the most recent government data. Current regulations allow some gillnet fishermen to use more than eight miles of netting at one time, some of which are allowed to be left in the water for weeks to months on end. This unselective method of fishing forms an invisible curtain along the seafloor that entangles any species too large to fit through the small holes in the net.
In a letter sent today to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the two regional Fishery Management Councils that oversee these fisheries, Oceana urged the councils to change the use of gillnets in the region, including cutting the net length and decreasing the amount of time gillnets are left in the water.
“Improvement in this fishery is long overdue. Gillnets catch any and all fish and ocean wildlife that swims through, and many of these animals are left to drown, die and rot in the nets without ever being accounted for,” said Fisheries Campaign Manager Gib Brogan. “Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine cod, species which are both especially vulnerable to gillnets, have been at near record lows for years. In a region that wants to rebuild and maintain the populations of its iconic species, these proposals should be no-brainers.”
In a report released last spring, Oceana identified the Northeast gillnet fisheries as among the nine most wasteful in the United States, throwing away seven million pounds of fish every year. These fisheries are also responsible for the deaths of thousands of fish and vulnerable marine wildlife every year, including more than 1,200 endangered sturgeon and 2,000 dolphins, porpoises and seals.
“There is no reason that thousands of dolphins and sea turtles should amount to collateral damage in these nets every year,” Brogan said. “If we want healthy and vibrant fisheries, we need to make changes to these wasteful and harmful fishing practices. Reducing the amount of waste in our nation’s fisheries not only prevents the needless deaths of thousands of animals, but helps maintain stable fish populations into the future.”
In the letter, Oceana proposes four reforms that would significantly decrease the amount of wasted catch in the New England and Mid-Atlantic gillnet fisheries:
1) Limit the amount of time gillnets can stay in the water before they are retrieved by fishermen.
2) Impose limits on gillnet length, height and quantity. Gear limits must be appropriate for the current abundance of fish in the region.
3) Ensure gillnet effort and catch monitoring is accurate and precise. The information collected about gillnet fishing must allow managers and the public to understand the dynamics of this gear in the region.
4) Stock assessments and catch advice must explicitly consider the effects of gillnet fishing. Oversight and monitoring of gillnets must be effective to meet the goals of the fisheries, including rebuilding depleted stocks like cod.
The New England Fishery Management Council will be meeting Sept. 30-Oct. 2 to consider the proposal and will make a final decision in November.
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 600,000 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.