The driftnet fishery is one of the world’s most destructive fisheries.
Often described as “curtains of death,” the driftnet fishery is one of the world’s most destructive fisheries in terms of bycatch (unwanted animals that are caught and discarded). This gear captures, injures, or kills almost everything that becomes entangled, in hopes that some of the thousands of animals caught or killed are swordfish, an expensive luxury product with dangerous levels of mercury. Only one in eight of the animals caught are swordfish. Large mesh driftnets, which are more than a mile long, are left in the ocean overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. Other marine species including whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, fish, and sharks can also become entangled in the large mesh nets, injuring or killing them. Most of these animals, referred to as bycatch, are then discarded.
To protect marine animals—including protected species, such as dolphins, sea lions, and seabirds—from being routinely trapped and killed in driftnets and gillnets, Turtle Island Restoration Network has led a coalition of concerned citizens and partner organizations for more than 20 years to stop the devastating impact of these fisheries have. We sued the federal government in 2001 to prohibit drift gillnet fishing in leatherback sea turtle foraging grounds each year, shutting down 250,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean off California, Oregon, and Washington and reducing the number of leatherback deaths in the fishery from 112 between 1990 and 2001 to almost zero between 2001 and 2012. We have published numerous reports on the impacts the California driftnet fishery has on ocean animals and the economy, and worked with a coalition in 2018 to release gruesome undercover footage from driftnet fishing vessels showcasing the continued need to address the ongoing harm driftnets pose to wildlife. The video, which included footage of a bloodied, dead dolphin, garnered millions of views and spurred thousands to call for legislative action.
Large mesh drift gillnets are already banned in the U.S. territorial waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii. However, they remain legal in federal waters off the coast of California. The use of large mesh driftnets by a single fishery in California is responsible for 90% of the dolphins and porpoises killed along the West Coast and Alaska. At least six endangered, threatened, or protected species are harmed by driftnets off the California coast. The United States is also a member of international agreements that ban large-scale driftnets in international waters. Given the tremendous difficulty in enforcing environmental laws for such a destructive fishery, U.S. taxpayers bear the cost of managing this economically marginal fishery for almost no benefit. The end result is that the driftnet fishery is a net drag on the U.S. economy.
Nightmare at Sea:
Animal Abuse in the Driftnet Fishing Industry
Shocking video footage reveals how marine animals—including protected species, such as dolphins, sea lions, and seabirds—are routinely trapped and killed in the commercial fishing industry’s “driftnets.” This video contains graphic content.
Implementing the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area
Prohibits drift gillnet fishing between August 15 and November 15 along California and Oregon, reducing the number of leatherback deaths in the fishery from 112 between 1990 and 2001 to almost zero between 2001 and 2012.View Map
Filming and releasing undercover footage of the driftnet fishery
Showcases the destruction driftnets have one the ocean and innocent marine animals. Spurred legislative action that banned the use of driftnets in California state waters.Watch Footage