California Driftnet Fishery: One in Eight Fish Caught Is the Targeted Swordfish

Turtle Island’s latest report, California Driftnet Fishery: The True Costs of a 20th Century Fishery in the 21st Century Overview, by Doug Karpa, Peter Fugazzotto and Todd Steiner, makes a compelling case for phasing out this deadly swordfish fishery that kills large numbers of whales, dolphins, sharks and non-target fish. The report exposes the facts about this fishery.

Only one in eight fish caught by this fishery is a swordfish

Driftnets have been called “curtains of death,” and California’s fishery seems to meet this definition. Setting out huge, mile-long nets out to float in the ocean off the coast of California, it indiscriminately catches whatever swims into the nets. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this is not a very targeted method of fishing for one species of fish, and the new report clearly shows that it isn’t.

The fact is this fishery in the last decade is estimated to have killed:

  • 26,000 sharks
  • 22 critically endangered leatherback and loggerhead
    sea turtles
  • 900 marine mammals, among them bottlenose dolphins, long-
    beaked common dolphins, northern right whale dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, short-beaked common dolphins, gray whales, humpback whales, minke whales, sperm whales, shortfin pilot whales, California sea lions, and northern elephant seals

If these animals were washing up on our beaches and shores, we would be outraged. But because this fishery operates secretly off our coast, it is harder to see the impact.

Turtle Island’s new report details that impact and outlines how the fishery for swordfish is among the most wasteful in the world in terms of bycatch (unwanted animals caught and discarded). The just-released report examines new data that show the driftnet fishery is a threat to marine mammals, sea turtles and sharks; targets toxic high-in-mercury fish; is a drag on California’s economy; and hampers efforts to clean up international fishing practices.

California, we can do better. It is time to shut down this fishery.

Click to download the Driftnet Overview.


  1. Tracy Hackett
    Washington DC
    February 3, 2016, 9:45 pm

    This kind of fishing has to become a thing of the past. Overfishing is threatening the health of our oceans. Driftnet fishing a wasteful travesty with too many animals suffer and die needlessly from it.