Aug 24 2018

MARK HELVEY: Protect California’s Drift Gillnet Fishery

August 24, 2018 — WASHINGTON — California’s drift gillnet (DGN) fishery has come under attack in recent months. One of the most prominent media attacks was a July Los Angeles Times editorial “Dead dolphins, whales and sea turtles aren’t acceptable collateral damage for swordfishing,” which irresponsibly called for the shut down of the fishery. Like many similar critiques, it overlooked the ways DGN fishermen have worked to reduce bycatch and the unintended consequences of shutting down the fishery.

It is first important to note that the DGN fishery operates legally subject to all bycatch minimization requirements in federal law. This includes not just the Magnuson-Stevens Act—the primary federal fishing law—but also the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These statutes are precautionary and conservation-minded, and help make U.S. fisheries some of the most environmentally conscious and best managed in the world.

DGN fishermen have collaborated extensively with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service over the years to further reduce bycatch. Since 1990, the fishery has operated an observer program to effectively monitor bycatch. It has deployed devices such as acoustic pingers to ward off marine mammals from fishing gear, has established the Pacific Offshore Cetacean Take Reduction Plan to further reduce marine mammal interactions, and has implemented time/area closures to reduce interactions with endangered sea turtles.

These measures have led to significant progress in reducing bycatch. For example, no ESA-listed marine mammals have been observed caught in the DGN fishery since the 2010-2011 fishing season and no listed sea turtles since the 2012-2013 season.

As mentioned in the Times editorial, there is indeed good news from fisheries deploying new, experimental deep-set buoy gear. But it is just that – experimental, and it is still unclear whether it will become economically viable. And while fishermen hope that it does, the volumes produced won’t make a dent in the over 80 percent of the 20,000 metric tons of swordfish consumed annually in the U.S. that comes from foreign fisheries.

Often missing from the discussion of the drift gillnet fishery is that most foreign fisheries are far less regulated and are much more environmentally harmful than any U.S. fishery. Should the U.S. DGN fishery be shut down, it will only further increase our reliance on this imported seafood. All U.S. fishermen abide by the highest levels of environmental oversight relative to their foreign counterparts, meaning that U.S. caught seafood comes at a fraction of the ecosystem impacts occurring abroad.

Californians need to understand this and help protect U.S. fisheries that are striving to do things the right way. California’s DGN fishermen provide seafood consumers with a local source of sustainably-caught, premium quality swordfish. We should thank them by keeping them on the water.

Mark Helvey had a 30-year career with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) before retiring in 2015.  He served as the last Assistant Regional Administrator for Sustainable Fisheries with the NMFS Southwest Region in Long Beach, representing the agency on fishery conservation and management for highly migratory and coastal pelagic species on the west coast.


Read the original post: https://www.savingseafood.org/tag/pacific/

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