Fishery Among Deadliest For Marine Mammals
A federal report released today ranks California’s drift gillnet fishery one of the nation’s deadliest fisheries for marine mammals. The National Marine Fisheries Service says that on average, 3.2 endangered sperm whales are killed every year by the fishery — more than twice the number federal scientists say the population can sustain and still recover. The agency is proposing to make the California gill net fishery one of two U.S. commercial fisheries in the Pacific classified as a “Category 1” fishery, a designation for those with “frequent” incidents of death and injuries to marine mammals. The other is the Hawaii tuna longline fishery.
“There’s no reason for endangered sperm whales to die in California gillnets. It just shouldn’t happen,” said Catherine Kilduff with the Center for Biological Diversity. “These incredible whales are already struggling against climate change, loud noises from military exercises and other threats. At the very least we should be trying to ensure they don’t get snared in indiscriminate fishing nets.”
Gillnet fishing involves setting out mile-long nets at dusk that drift freely where fish, sharks, turtles and marine mammals feed during the night. The boats retrieve the nets the next day and haul in whatever catch has been ensnared in the nets. On average this California fishery catches and discards more than 100 protected whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions each year, as well as thousands of sharks and non-target fish. The vast majority are dumped back into the ocean, dead or injured.
Sperm whales have been listed as “endangered” since 1970. The California-Oregon-Washington stock of sperm whales are found year-round in California waters and reach peak abundance between April and mid-June and from the end of August through mid-November. In Washington and Oregon they have been seen in every season except winter. Deep divers known to prey on the elusive giant squid, females grow to 36 feet and 15 tons and males reach 52 feet and weigh as much as 45 tons. Newborn calves are about 13 feet long.
Conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government under the Endangered Species Act in September 2012 for authorizing California’s drift gillnet fishery since the alarming take of sperm whales and other new information suggests the government has overlooked the fishery’s impact on endangered species. Previous Center action forced the fishery to implement closed areas to protect loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles.