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California Drift Gillnet Fishery Fact Sheet

The California driftnet fishery for swordfish captures, harms and kills sperm whales, sea turtles, sharks, whales, dolphins and sea lions as bycatch. Only one in eight animals caught by the fishery are swordfish. The fishery consists of just 20 boats, and is among the worst 20 percent of all fisheries globally. Read our California Drift Gillnet Fishery Fact Sheet to get the background.

High Cost

The fishery costs more to operate than the value of the swordfish caught. High and low estimates of the annual cost of managing the California Drift Gillnet fishery during the last five years range from $1,265,500 to $2,720,7500, while the value of landings has ranged from only $553,000 (2014) to $1,030,000 (2011), indicating the cost of managing the fishery is more than double the value of the fish, leading to a net loss to the economy between $268,500 up to $2,058,500 each year.[1]

Key Facts

  1. Drift gillnets can be up to a mile-long in California waters. To put this in perspective, a drift gillnet would stretch from shore to shore and from deck to the sea under the Golden Gate Bridge.
  2. One animal in five caught by this fishery is listed as “Threatened” or “Vulnerable” on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); and at least five different federally-listed endangered species are threatened by California driftnets.
  3. Driftnets kill more whales and dolphins than all other West Coast observed fisheries combined (including Alaska). Based on observer projections, driftnets killed an estimated 16 endangered whales within the last five-years.
  4. Drift gillnet fishing is an outdated an inefficient technology that has already been banned by the United Nations, countries around the world (most recently Russia), and throughout the rest of the U.S. After over two decades of modifications and fixes, the rate at which this fishery catches high-priority protected species is still as high as it was in the 1990s.
  5. California’s driftnet fishery tosses back, dead and damaged, almost two-thirds of its catch (“bycatch”). In other words, for every fish caught two are tossed back to the ocean. This bycatch poses a serious threat to our California marine ecosystem.
[1] Pacific Fisheries Management Council & NOAA data.