For decades, the state of California has restricted the use of drift gillnets off the coast. Gillnet gear was prohibited in state waters in the 1990s through Proposition 132. Today all drift gillnetting is prohibited from February 1 to April 30 and barred within 75 nautical miles of the coastline between May 1 and August 14.
Sperm whale photo by Doug Perrine, Sperm whale (c) Doug Perrine/Seapics.com
Although the fishery originally targeted thresher sharks, it switched to swordfish and shortfin mako sharks after thresher shark populations crashed.
While it is now managed primarily by National Marine Fisheries Service, the state of California retains authority over fishing permits in the fleet and continues to enforce regulations governing where and when the drift gillnet vessels can operate.
Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.org) began its advocacy to stop the capture and killing of endangered sea turtles, whales and sea turtles in the late 1990s. Since then we have won numerous fisheries reforms including gear modifications and time-and-area closures. In 2001, in response to lawsuits and grassroots actions, the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area was established that prohibits gillnet fishing between August 15 and November 15 from Big Sur to the Central Oregon coast out to 200 miles.
However, federal fishery managers and seafood lobbyists continue to push to expand the deadly swordfish fishery into sea turtle habitat. We defeated several of these proposals and are now calling for a complete phase out of the fishery.
Here is a timeline of the CA/OR/WA drift gillnet fishery. For more history, download our 2013 report, California's Deadliest Catch.
1989 Drift gillnets banned in Washington and Oregon over
marine mammal and sea turtle bycatch.
California bans longlining along its coast.119
1995 Oregon lifts ban. Allows 10 permits.
1984 Additional drift gillnet closures imposed along CA coast
(out to 12 miles) and wider around San Francisco.
1986 New time/area closures to protect gray whales.
1990 Additional time/area closures enacted over juvenile shark
catch in Southern CA.
1990 Proposition 132 limits gillnet fishing effort and includes a
1991 UN Bans Drift Nets on the High Seas.
1997 Marine mammal regulations require net extenders to
lower than 36 feet, and pingers.
2000 - TIRN files law suit against fishery under ESA and MMPA,
prompting NMFS proposal for Pacific Leatherback Conservation
Zone, north of Pt. Conception, but NMFS delays.
2001 NMFS implements Pacific Leatherback Conservation
Area to protect endangered sea turtles from drift gillnets
for three months of every year - Aug. 15 to Nov. 15, but
reduces the proposed size by moving southern boundary
to Pt. Sur.
An additional time/area closure added for loggerheads
in El Niño years only.
2004 Fishery management falls to PFMC. Longlining banned
along U.S. West Coast out to 200 miles to protect loggerhead
2006 TIRN launches lawsuit against fishery that stops PFMC
plan to end PLCA closure.
2008 PFMC recommends new longline experimental fishing
permit for swordfish - denied by NMFS due to harm to sea
2009 Oregon eliminates drift gillnet permits.
2009 One endangered leatherback observed entangled and
released alive in gillnet fishery just outside the southern
2010 Two endangered sperms whales observer entangled,
equal to 16 entanglements. Incidental Take Statement for
marine mammals expires in violation of MMPA.
2011 Northern Pacific loggerheads uplisted from threatened to
endangered under U.S. ESA.
Drift gillnet fisherman found fishing illegally in PLCA.
2012 PFMC decides to try re-opening of PLCA again.
Critical habitat established for endangered leatherback
sea turtles in California, Washington, Oregon under U.S.
Leatherback sea turtle observed alive in gillnet gear just
south of PLCA boundary.
TIRN launches new lawsuit against fishery under ESA
2013 PFMC HMS team recommends changes to PLCA. California
Council epresentatives dismiss proposals and
postpone further action until 2014.
First leatherback of 2013 cited near Anacapa Island,
Channel Islands, CA
New science predicts extinction of Western Pacific leatherbacks
within 20 years without urgent new protections,
specifically from fisheries.
Drift Gillnet Background Documents:
Drift Gillnet Fishery 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue
Drift Gillnet Scientist Letter
Drift Gillnet Coalition Letter