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Attempts to Establish Hard Caps on West Coast Drift Gillnet Fishery Questionable

For Immediate Release
February 24, 2020

Contact: Annalisa Batanides Tuel, (408) 621-8113, atuel@seaturtles.org

Attempts to Establish Hard Caps on West Coast Drift Gillnet Fishery Questionable

ROHNERT PARK, Calif. — After almost a decade of back-and-forth rule makings and court decisions, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently released a rule that would establish hard caps on the West Coast drift gillnet fishery. While hard cap policies ensure that fishing activities halt before irreparable damage is done to a special status species, hard caps only work if they are strictly enforced and that is not what this rule seems to do.

Driftnets are walls of netting that float in the ocean. They are extremely harmful, as notoriously high numbers of sea animals – including protected species such as dolphins, sea lions, and seabirds – are caught, killed, and thrown away by the driftnet fishery.

Proposed hard caps would close down the destructive drift gillnet fishery once the fishery has reached their bycatch “quota.” In other words, once the fishery has encountered a certain number of protected sea turtles, whales, or dolphins, the fishery would be closed for a period of time. 

“If NMFS is serious about reducing the amount of bycatch in West Coast drift gillnet fisheries, they would enforce such caps with 100% observer coverage and choose more stringent cap levels than those in the proposed rule,” said Policy & Advocacy Manager Annalisa Batanides Tuel. “While the establishment of hard caps is a move in the right direction, this move is a bit like rearranging deck furniture on the sinking Titanic.”

The problem with driftnets is clear: It is completely unsustainable. For every swordfish caught by the driftnet fishery, an estimated seven other marine animals are entangled in nets and often injured or killed! Internationally, large-scale driftnets are already banned on the high seas, in the Mediterranean, and in waters off Russia because of the unavoidable impacts on marine wildlife. 

Turtle Island Restoration Network has been leading a coalition of concerned citizens and partner organizations for nearly 20 years, working to stop the devastating impact of this fishery on sea turtles. This effort began with litigation in 2000 that led to a 250,000 square mile closure of the Pacific Ocean to protect endangered sea turtles from driftnets. 

And we’re seeing results. In 2018, Turtle Island Restoration Network won a huge victory for sea turtles, sharks, and other innocent marine species when California signed a bill into law that would phase out the last remaining drift gillnet fishery in state waters. 

Right now, federal legislation is being heard in U.S. Congress which seeks to outlaw this horrific and destructive fishing method off the West Coast. 

“Drift gillnets are a fishing method of the past, and are quickly on the way out,” Tuel said. “This seems like an attempt to legitimize the practice, rather than work to transition fishers using DGN to more environmentally sound fishing methods.”

April 1, 2019

Urge Congress to Federally Ban Driftnets in Commercial Fishing