SACRAMENTO, Calif.— In an important victory for wildlife, federal fishery managers in Sacramento today decided not to expand driftnet fishing into protected sea turtle habitat along the California coast because it would significantly raise the risk of capturing and drowning endangered sea turtles and sperm whales. Instead the Pacific Fishery Management Council called for immediate action to impose strong whale-protection regulations on the driftnet fleet that expired in January 2014 and to test lower bycatch fishing gears for catching swordfish. But it took no action on ending the use of driftnets along the California coast.
“Finally, sea turtles and whales are getting a little help, instead of more fishing threats,” said Teri Shore, program director at Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Yet the driftnets will still be out on the water as usual this year, needlessly capturing and killing ocean wildlife. After decades of this, we were hoping for more.”
“Leatherback sea turtles and sperm whales shouldn’t drown in fishing nets, so we’re happy to see the council recognize the danger these massive nets pose,” said Catherine Kilduff, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Keeping awesome ocean creatures safe requires fishing smartly, not with mile-long driftnets.”
The Council dismissed the swordfish fishery's proposal to allow high bycatch driftnets into protected sea turtle habitat in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary that is inside the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area. It also:
- called on the National Marine Fisheries Service to impose emergency sperm whale protections on the driftnet fishery when it opens May 1;
- asked for experimental testing of alternatives to driftnet gear, such as low bycatch buoy gear but possibly more high bycatch longline gear that is now prohibited along the U.S. West Coast due to threats to endangered species;
- discussed requiring 100 percent observer coverage on the driftnet fleet, which has averaged about 15 percent over the past two decades;
- discussed limiting the number of sea turtles, whales, dolphins and other marine life that the driftnet fleet can kill each year before it is shut down for the season.
The California driftnet fishery consists of 20 or fewer active vessels, yet the fishery is responsible for accidentally killing more than 100 marine mammals, including dolphins, whales and sea lions every year — more than any other commercial fishery along the U.S. West Coast. Thousands of vulnerable blue shark, sunfish and other finfish are caught and dumped overboard dead or dying.
In 2010 an estimated 16 endangered sperm whales were killed. Last season the driftnets caught at least one gray whale and two short fin pilot whales, according to preliminary observer data.
For photos of entangled marine life: http://www.seaturtles.org/gallery.php?gal=10