Opposition Voiced Over NMFS Proposal to Allow Incidental Take of Whales in Swordfish Fishery

Image via Oceana.

An international advocate for ocean conservation is challenging a National Marine Fisheries Service proposal that would allow endangered whales to be injured or killed when they become entangled in long nets used in the California swordfish fishery.

Oceana voiced its opposition this past week in a letter to the West Coast regional office of NMFS.

Preliminary NMFS data noted that two humpback whales were seen entangled in drift gillnets in 2021. Based on this report and the level of observer coverage, Oceana estimates that a dozen humpback whales were entangled in the nets over the last two fishing seasons.

A recent analysis by Oceana found rampant underreporting of incidents of harm to marine life on trips without a fisheries observer on board. The report noted that there are currently no hard limits on the number of endangered whales or turtles that the fishery can catch, despite recommendations from the Pacific Fishery Management Council to set caps on how many whales, turtles and dolphins the fishery could harm before being closed.

In September 2018, California’s Legislature enacted bills to phase out use of large mesh drift gillnets fishing for swordfish through a transition program that incentivizes harvesters to switch to deep-set buoy gear. Twenty-eight of 32 active drift gillnet fishermen have agreed to participate in the program, and at least 20 miles of drift gillnets have been turned in for recycling into other products.

A Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act (H.R. 404) introduced in the House would phase out large-scale drift gillnets nationwide. A companion bill passed the Senate last year.

Oceana noted that the U.S. West Coast is the last place in the U.S. that still allows drift gillnets to catch swordfish. Large scale drift gillnets are prohibited on the high seas and in many other countries.