**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
We had some good news for California’s whales last week: new emergency measures were required in the drift gillnet fleet to prevent entanglement of sperm whales. The new federal emergency fishing regulations are forcing California’s drift gillnet fleet for swordfish and shark to stop fishing for the season if a single endangered sperm whale gets entangled in a net. All vessels that fish offshore will now be required to carry on-board observers at all times.
The emergency regulations were imposed in response to two endangered sperm whales that were observed killed in the fishery in 2010. Based on low observer coverage in the fleet of 20 percent or less, marine mammal experts estimated that as many as16 individual whales were killed in the CA drift gillnet fishery that year. This number is high above the legal limit allowed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Until now, the fishery has been operating for nearly three years without a legal marine mammal take permit. The rules will be enforced by requiring new vessel monitoring systems tracking the locations of all drift gillnet vessels off the U.S. West Coast.
Sadly, the gillnet fleet for swordfish has the highest bycatch of whales, dolphins and sea lions along the U.S. West Coast. Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN), Center for Biological Diversity, and Oceana requested emergency regulations and filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government under the Endangered Species Act in September 2012 because of the alarming killing and injury of sperm whales — as well as other new information that suggested the government was overlooking the fishery’s impact on endangered species. Conservation groups’ efforts in prior years have forced the fishery to implement closed areas to protect loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles. The new regulations will help enforce these closed areas by monitoring all fishing vessel locations.
TIRN’s new report California’s Deadliest Catch reveals that the drift gillnet fishery captured and killed 1,300 protected whales, dolphins, and sea turtles animals over 10 years (2001 – 2010) — and caught and discarded an estimated 100,000 giant ocean sunfish and 10,000 blue sharks, that were dumped overboard dead, dying or injured.
While these emergency measures are supposed to prevent whale deaths in the short term, the real fix is to phase out this obsolete and wasteful fishery once and for all. The new regulations do nothing to stop the killing of more than 100 dolphins, sea lions, and other marine animals every year. It’s time to end this waste of ocean life. Drift gillnets are so deadly to marine life that the gear is banned in Oregon and Washington and on the open ocean. The method should be halted along the entire West Coast.