As scientists are warning that our ocean ecosystems are on the verge of collapse, leaders are taking action to rein in the world’s worst industrial fisheries.
Astonishingly, one of those worst offenders is California’s driftnet fishery, (also known as the CA drift gillnet fishery). Currently, the fishery consists of a small fleet of roughly 20 active vessels that set nets the size of the Golden Gate Bridge to drift unattended through our oceans. While the primary targeted commercial species for this fishery are swordfish and shark, these nets entangle everything in their mile-wide path, resulting in high levels of bycatch (unintended catch, most thrown overboard dead or injured).
Over the past ten years, nearly a thousand air-breathing whales, dolphins, and sea turtles have drowned, while thousands of sharks (that depend on constant movement) have suffocated.
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 fishery was especially wasteful in its treatment of blue sharks. In the last decade, 8,186 blue sharks were caught, and an astounding 8,180 were discarded. Of those discarded nearly 5,313 were dead. The fishery also caught an astounding 8,000 common thresher sharks (a candidate species for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act) and is further jeopardizing shark populations.
This inherently destructive fishing gear has been banned by the United Nations, on the high seas, by a host of countries, and throughout the United States. California is the last state in the U.S. to allow this fishing method, which has been described as “invisible curtains of death.”
Essentially, this gear entangles 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.
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.