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Deadly Expansion Of Shark, Swordfish Fishery Planned For California Sea Turtle Protected Area

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SACRAMENTO, California -- The federal Pacific Fishery Management Council voted on Saturday to pursue the expansion of California's devastating drift gillnet fishery for swordfish and sharks into an area that is currently off-limits to that fishing to protect critically endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council's action specifically asked for an analysis of just how much of the sea turtle protected area could be reduced to allow more drift gillnet fishing. The Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area prohibits drift gillnet fishing between Aug. 15 and Nov. 15 along the California coast north of Point Sur out to the 200-mile "economic zone." It was established in 2001 to protect the endangered leatherback, which migrates from Indonesia specifically to feed on jellyfish off the U.S. West Coast. The Council tried to open the area once before in 2006, but the attempt was defeated by conservation groups.

"All the science suggests that endangered sea turtles need more protection, not less," said Oceana California Program Director Geoff Shester. "Drift gillnets have unacceptable levels of bycatch of some of our most treasured and vulnerable marine life, so if we want to catch more swordfish, we need to pursue cleaner fishing methods."

Every year the deadly fishery indiscriminately captures and kills or injures more than 130 protected whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, as well as thousands of sharks and other marine animals. The vast majority of those animals are dumped back into the ocean, dead or injured. Expanding the drift gillnet fishery would also lead to increased bycatch of sunfish, bluefin tuna, blue sharks, striped marlin and albacore tuna.

A new federal bycatch report also revealed that fishery observers witnessed two endangered sperm whales entangled and killed in the fishery in 2010. Since most entanglements go unseen due to low observer coverage, federal fishery managers estimated that as many as 16 sperm whales were likely to have been injured or killed in the fishery that year. This is well above the legal limit of sperm whales allowed to be captured in the California drift gillnet fishery.

"Fishing that sweeps up the ocean's marine mammals and sea turtles in big fishing nets, killing and maiming them, needs to be limited­ — before it's too late," said Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity. "To go backwards on saving these amazing creatures makes no sense. Our public resources can't sustain the cost of fish caught by indiscriminate fishing methods."

The California drift gillnet fishery targets swordfish and thresher shark and uses nets that stretch a mile in length. The nets are set to "soak" overnight and catch almost all fish and animals that swim into them in the dark ocean.

The proposed drift gillnet expansion would also encroach on an ocean area that in January was designated as critical habitat for the endangered leatherback sea turtle.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the state of California are also pushing to increase domestic Pacific swordfish landings by initiating a new shallow-set longline fishery for swordfish despite the fact that the market trend in swordfish demand has been decreasing since the 1990s. Longlining along the coast is now prohibited by the state of California because of high bycatch of protected marine species and has been consistently defeated by conservationists, scientists and the public. New lower bycatch gear will also be studied by the council.

"The California drift gillnet fishery needs to be phased out if we are serious about achieving healthy fisheries," said Teri Shore, program director at, a marine conservation group based in West Marin, Calif., that has won strong protections for marine life harmed in the drift gillnet fishery. "Sea turtles are getting more endangered, not less; these federal fishery managers are going rogue in trying to push longlining that nobody wants — not us, not the fisherman, not the state. Who wants to eat fish that is caught while killing sea turtles or whales?"

Assembly member Paul Fong (D-Mountain View), who passed last year's shark fin ban, recently introduced legislation (A.B. 1776) that will designate the leatherback sea turtle as California's official state marine reptile.

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

12 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

WHY??? We should not consider this under any circumstances. Protected turtles are protected for a reason. We should not kill any other
   comment# 1   - arleneroach · houstontexas · Mar 7, 2012 @ 8:47am

I think The sea turtles should be the first concern. Sometimes greed or some other payment gets in the way of sense. I'm against any more harvest of fish, fowl or any animal that is not a real need for.
   comment# 2   - Dolle Winkler · Creston, Oh · Mar 7, 2012 @ 9:15am

   comment# 3   - carol thacker · mills river · Mar 7, 2012 @ 4:27pm

Screw the turtles, they don't land on CA beaches anyway, I've never seen one in CA and I surf every week.
   comment# 4   - Smitty · LA, Los Angeles · Mar 7, 2012 @ 4:45pm

What is wrong with the national marine fishery?? I'll tell It's all about money The fishery and state are greedy and corrupt They don't think twice about the devastation and harm they will cause Residents of california need to be heard Contact your legislators !!Stand up to the fishery
   comment# 5   - m s · buffalo ny · Mar 7, 2012 @ 5:49pm

We have the most corrupt politicians in Sacramento and Washington D.C. that can be imagined! Allowing commercial fishing interests to drift gill nets and strip mine with bottom trawls is criminal! The tons of by-catch killed, juvinile Halibut, rockfish, seabasss..on and on.. tons killed for every 100lbs.of spot prawns. Billfish and tuna discarded as non-target never stops with these pirates! With proper sustainable fishing methods in place jobs could be created and fish could thrive but for some reason common sence is being ignored. Their idiotic acts dont stop there, but go after sportfishermen and local sport landings with insane MLPS closures designed to put these low impact users out of buisness....So typical of the Obamaistas and Moonbeam Brown and their gangs of lunitc job killers!!....Pathetic....Cmon November. Vote these losers!
   comment# 6   - LuckyTom · San Clemente, Cal. USA · Mar 7, 2012 @ 8:20pm

These fish company are out there to make money. I pray they burn in HELL
   comment# 7   - Abu Kamara · Freetown, Sierra Leone · Mar 8, 2012 @ 4:45am

Ocean wide (drift-Net's that span 25 miles across & gillnet fishing should be illegal it is ruing the species we survive on. And endangerment of the Turtles and shark finning is greedy as well as grotesque.
   comment# 8   - Greed $ucks · L.I. N.Y. · Mar 8, 2012 @ 6:30pm

Smitty, maybe you never see turtles because they're endangered because of this type of fishing! Man, how can you be so blind? Turtles need our help. This is your ocean too man, you can't just get your kicks and turn your back on it.
   comment# 9   - Serf n nerf · Santa Cruz, CA · Mar 9, 2012 @ 5:19pm

i used to be a commercial fisherman for many years in FLA,and you absolutely need to protect these animals,if not human greed will wipe everything out for the love of money! they will cut the last tree,catch the last fish,and kill the last rhino if you let them!as humans we are supposed to be the more intelligent species on the planet,but for all our intelligence,we must be the dumbest to destroy this beautiful plant we live on.and all for money!!sad!! ,
   comment# 10   - TIM GREER · BLAIRSVILLE GA,USA · Mar 9, 2012 @ 7:39pm

I don't know much about either, but maybe there is a way to please every party concerned. Like, the nets that are used could be only 1/16 of a mile long, instead of a mile. They could place more of them out, just staggered around so even if endangered marine life or unwanted, throw backs are captured, there will be less danger of them being hurt or killed. Whom ever is responsible for checking the nets, will just have to do so more often.
   comment# 11   - Chanayvonne · Turlock, ca, usa · Mar 13, 2012 @ 8:18pm

I pray to Jesus that one day I can see huge sea turtle with my own two eyes!!!!!! The prayers were answered.....I saw this magnificent giant at SEA LIFE PARK. I pray all the babies hatch & run into the ocean for a larger habitat.
   comment# 12   - elizabeth jackson · USA · Mar 15, 2012 @ 3:47am
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