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Safer Fishing Gear to Replace West Coast Drift Gillnets

Long-beaked common dolphins are one species often caught in drift gillnets, which are being replaced on the West Coast with safer fishing gear. (Chad King/NOAA)
Long-beaked common dolphins are one species often caught in drift gillnets, which are being replaced on the West Coast with safer fishing gear. (Chad King/NOAA)
September 18, 2019

LONG BEACH, Calif. - Dolphins, whales, sharks and sea lions on the West Coast may be less likely to die in fishing nets now that authorities have approved a new type of fishing gear. The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Tuesday to approve deep-set buoy gear to replace the huge drift gillnets made of mesh that are used by commercial fishing operations to catch swordfish.

Ashley Blacow-Draeger, Pacific policy and communications manager for the group Oceana, said half of the species caught in drift nets are unintentional bycatch - wasted and thrown overboard.

"With this new, innovative and cleaner gear," she said, "fishermen can successfully catch swordfish without causing deadly harm to marine mammals and a lot of other sea creatures."

Trials done in the past few years show that 98% of fish caught with deep-set buoy gear are sent to market. The state of California has a program to compensate fishing crews that turn in their gillnets and permits, which helps them pay for the new, more sustainable type of gear.

Blacow-Draeger said marine-conservation groups have been fighting for this change for eight years.

"Now," she said, "we need the National Fishery Service to add it to the list of approved fishing gear types, and then issue deep-set buoy gear permits through their regulatory process as soon as possible."

Drift gillnets already are banned in several areas along the West Coast. So, fishermen using the new gear also will soon have access to more fishing grounds, particularly off the coasts of Northern California and Oregon.

The decision is online at pcouncil.org, details of the California Drift Gillnet Transition Program are at usa.oceana.org, and more information on the Pacific Fishery Management Council is at pcouncil.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA