Drowning marine mammals and turtles snagged in gillnets – a challenge nagging ocean conservationists – is the topic as Dr. Geoff Shester tells us about the California swordfish industry and its drift gillnets. The international conservation organization Oceana has recently identified the California swordfish drift gillnet fishery as among the dirtiest “bycatch” fisheries in the nation.
According to some estimates, this fishery kills more dolphins and whales annually than all other west coast and Alaska fisheries combined, as well as large numbers of iconic sharks and other fish species. Overall, over half of all animals caught in these gillnets are discarded overboard. California lawmakers attempted to pass legislation to ban the use of drift gillnets by California fishermen in 2014 and remain concerned about the high level of bycatch in this fishery. The federal Pacific Fishery Management Council is currently considering implementing a suite of “bycatch caps” on several species of whales and sea turtles, which would shut the fishery down for the remainder of a fishing season if any of the caps are reached or exceeded.
Oceana has proposed that efforts be focused on transitioning away from drift gillnets completely toward alternative fishing methods. To this end, the presentation will discuss efforts to promote legal harpoon gear and further exploring experimental deep-set buoy gear as part of a multi-faceted conservation campaign. The talk will discuss these issues, as well as new emerging concerns with whale entanglements in fishing gear off the west coast, while identifying opportunities for ocean conservationists and enthusiasts to further engage in west coast fishery management.