Oregon No Longer Permits Driftnets

Written by on December 29, 2009 in Policy & Ocean Law

Celia-Inés Ammann

The salmon fisher. By Eilif Peterssen  -  Gill nets are basically a series of panels of meshes with a weighted "foot rope" along the bottom, and a "headline", to which floats are attached. They can therefore be set to fish at any height in the water column.

The salmon fisher. By Eilif Peterssen – Gill nets are basically a series of panels of meshes with a weighted “foot rope” along the bottom, and a “headline”, to which floats are attached. They can therefore be set to fish at any height in the water column.

A vote on December 11 decided that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will no longer issue commercial fishing permits for drift gillnet gear used to target swordfish and thresher sharks in waters off the Oregon coast.   These expansive driftnets are known to ensnare and drown dolphins, sea lions, endangered sea turtles and other animals.

With this decision, what was the federally managed California/Oregon Drift Gillnet Fishery for swordfish and thresher sharks will now only be a California-based fishery.  This gear is not legal in Washington State.

Over 90 percent of the California and Oregon driftnet fishery for swordfish and thresher sharks takes place within federal waters south of Point Conception, California, but the fishery has occurred as far north as ocean waters off the Columbia River in Oregon.  In 2008 there were 46 active driftnet vessels out of 84 permits issued.  Only five of those permits were issued by Oregon, with no landings of swordfish or thresher shark reported in Oregon for the past eight years.

Driftnet fishing, using curtain-like nets up to a mile in length, takes and kills California sea lions, long-beaked common dolphins, Northern elephant seals, Northern right-whale dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, short-beaked common dolphins and short-finned pilot whales.  In addition, each year the fishery catches, and returns thousands of  dead or dying sharks, tunas and other fishes like mackerel, bonito and opah to the sea.

Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana, who testified on the dangers of gillnets and asked the Commission to close the fishery, said:

“We commend the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission for recognizing the threat of driftnets and acting with vision and responsibility to end this practice in Oregon. “Driftnets are an outdated and outrageous way to try and catch swordfish, and it’s time we took them out of the ocean permanently. There’s no need for further experiment—we already know that drift gillnets have snared and drowned countless dolphins, sea lions, turtles and other animals.  Giving an Experimental Fishing Permit to the driftnet fishery gives the word ‘experiment’ a bad name, and would be about money, not science.”

This decision means that the State of Oregon will no longer provide necessary State permits to Oregon-based fishermen wishing to use this gear, effectively ending this indiscriminate fishery in Pacific waters off Oregon.

Weighted gillnet trap, Credit: Marine Conservation Cambodia/Marine Photobank

Weighted gillnet trap, Credit: Marine Conservation Cambodia/Marine Photobank

Copyright ©  2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Celia is Director of Business Operations for OceanLines LLC and is a frequent contributor to both OceanLines and Marine Science Today. She is a certified diver and her favorite topic is marine biology, especially stories about whales. .

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