Victory at Sea: Governor Signs Bill to End Driftnets in California

San Francisco Bay Area (September 27, 2018) – Today, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill (SB 1017) that will phase out the use of large-scale driftnets, also known as ‘walls of death,’ that are used to catch swordfish but also trap a myriad of ocean animals.

Turtle Island Restoration Network has led a coalition of concerned citizens and partner organizations working for nearly 20 years to stop the devastating impact of this driftnet fishery on sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and other ocean animals. This effort began with litigation in 2000 that led to a 250,000 square mile closure to protect endangered sea turtles.

“This is an historic victory for sea turtles, whales, sharks and dolphins. Today marks the end of driftnets in US waters, a barbaric and antiquated fishing technology that has largely operated in secrecy off our coasts for decades and unbeknownst to most Californians,” said Todd Steiner, a marine ecologist and Executive Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

SB 1017, authored by Senator Ben Allen, along with over 15 coauthors:

  • Phases out the use of swordfish drift gillnets over a four-year period following establishment of a transition program funded through public-private partnerships; and
  • Authorizes the implementation of a transition fund to help fishermen who will be required to stop using the nets.

“The legislation to phase out this harmful fishery will go a long way toward making the Pacific Ocean safer for ocean wildlife,” said Cassie Burdyshaw, Advocacy and Policy Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

California’s driftnet fishery, the last in US waters, discards over one half of all fish caught and has killed over 70 different marine species. California is the last state still allowing use of this archaic method to catch swordfish off its coast. 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, including whales, dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles.

“Passage of the bill with strong bipartisan support is a rebuke to the Trump administration, which, in 2017, withdrew a proposed rule aimed at creating more transparency in the fishery and reducing its impact on a variety of affected wildlife species,” said Burdyshaw.

Earlier in the year, Turtle Island Restoration Network and a coalition released gruesome video footage from driftnet vessels showcasing the continued need to address the ongoing harm to wildlife. The video that included footage of a bloodied, dead dolphin garnered millions of views and spurred thousands to call for legislative action.

“This hard-won victory was a long time coming.  Finally we have found a way to phase out the use of these deadly and destructive nets without harming the commercial fishing industry in the process.  I am grateful to Governor Brown for signing it into law,” said Senator Allen.

The bill also had broad support from conservation organizations, recreational fishermen, and a variety of businesses, such as dive shops, restaurants, and whale watching businesses that agreed that locally-caught seafood shouldn’t come at the expense of whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and other sensitive marine wildlife caught in mile-long drift gillnets off our coast.

“I’m very pleased that we now can look forward to a time not far in the future when magnificent marine creatures will no longer be injured and killed by these nets.  I am grateful to the lead supporters of the legislation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Oceana and Turtle Island Restoration Network, and hundreds of other groups, for their steadfast, effective advocacy of this measure,” Allen added.

Turtle Island Restoration Network mobilizes people to restore oceans, preserve rivers and streams, and protect the marine wildlife – from sea turtles to sharks to salmon – that call these blue-green waters home. Turtle Island Restoration Network is 30-year-old environmental non-profit with offices in California, Texas and Hawaii. Our members and online activists work to protect marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. Visit to learn more.

Photos, video, reports and resources are available at the following links:

Ban Death Nets – Press Kit

Commercial Fishing Coalition Driftnet Investigations – High-Resolution Photographs

Ban Death Nets

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