As you begin writing, calling, and tweeting in support of the Unsustainably Caught Swordfish Boycott, you'll need to know the facts on drift gillnets and their impact on the environment. To make your activism easier, we've put together this handy factsheet on California's drift gillnet fisheries. You can also find information on international gillnet and longline fisheries here.

Drift Gillnets in California

-The California drift gillnet fishery is one of the highest bycatch fisheries in the United States, despite decades of increased regulations. Bycatch is the accidental catch of ocean animals other than the target species of fish.

-Swordfish, the primary target species of this fishery, make up only 12 % of the catch, while 65% of the catch is discarded directly overboard.

-12 leatherback turtles (and an estimated 5.76 loggerheads) are estimated to have been killed by California's drift gillnets in the period 2004 - 2014. Loggerhead and leatherback populations have declined by 80 - 95% in the last twenty years, meaning that even a single death within the population can have a significant negative impact on their risk for extinction.


-This fishery entangles more cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) than any other fishery along the US Pacific coast.

-In the last decade, approximately 885 marine mammals have been killed in California's drift gillnets.

-Two endangered sperm whales were observed in drift gillnets in 2010, and both died after becoming entangled. Based on the observer coverage rate, this gives rise to an estimate of 15.5 sperm whale entanglements for the entire fishery.

-Between 2007 and 2010, this fishery caught an annual average of 67.8 marine mammals.


-Between 2004 and 2014, 21% of the catch consisted of IUCN Red List species (9% was Near Threatened, 12% Vulnerable or Critically Endangered), including endangered leatherback sea turtles, sperm whales, shortfin mako sharks, bluefin tuna and smooth hammerheads.

-Red Listed Vulnerable thresher and mako sharks together make up 10% of the catch and are targeted, retained and sold for their meat and fins, despite concern about the sustainability of their harvest.

-8,000 common thresher sharks (a candidate species for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act) were caught in the last decade. This fishery is further jeopardizing declining thresher shark populations.

-Vulnerable blue sharks make up 5% of the catch, and are typically discarded directly overboard, dead or alive. In the last decade, 8,186 blue sharks were caught, and an astounding 8,180 were discarded. Of those discarded, nearly 5,313 were already dead.


-In the last ten years, an estimated 26,000 sharks overall were caught by this deadly fishery, with nearly 10,000 simply being tossed overboard.

-The megamouth shark was only discovered in 1976, and since then fewer than 70 specimens have ever been reported. Nearly 10% of all megamouth sharks ever reported globally were entangled in California’s drift gillnets.

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-Almost 50% of the catch is made up of ocean sunfish – the primary consumers of jellyfish in the region. Although mostly released alive, there is little available information on post-release mortality or population and impacts of the catch on an estimated 85,000 ocean sunfish in the last decade.

-Large-scale pelagic drift gillnets were outlawed in 1993 on the High Seas by the United Nation General Assembly, which the US has implemented as a matter of policy.


-On the US West Coast, the State of Washington State banned drift gillnets in 2001, and Oregon abandoned its drift gillnet fishery program in 2009.

-Proposed regulations on the drift gillnet fishery off the coast of California were halted by the Trump administration in the summer of 2017. These proposed regulations would have temporarily shut down the drift gillnet fishery for a period of two years if too many whales, dolphins, or sea turtles were caught in the nets during a fishing season.