Analysis: Crews only report 6% of marine mammals caught in set gillnets
Monday, October 9, 2023
A new analysis by Oceana found crews in the California set gillnet fishery have severely underreported the number of seals and sea lions caught and killed or injured over the past 20 years.
Researchers estimate fishing crews are reporting marine mammal bycatch just 6% of the time.
Caitlynn Birch, Pacific marine scientist for Oceana, said it proves the need for government observers onboard the boats.
"It's well known by fishery managers that self-reporting is unreliable," Birch asserted. "However, there's no enforcement. If there's no third-party, federal fishery observer out there, they're not going to say that they killed a sea lion?"
The National Marine Fisheries Service stopped posting observers on fishing boats around 2017. The Marine Resource Committee of the California Fish and Game Commission meets Nov. 16 to consider a suite of measures to protect wildlife, including a new observer program.
The Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife are working to update management of the set gillnet fishery, improve data collection and reduce bycatch.
Birch argued fishery managers need observers on the vessels or electronic monitoring in order to accurately quantify the fisheries' impacts on wildlife.
"If we don't have correct data we're flying blind," Birch contended. "In terms of trying to manage a fishery that has high rates of bycatch and interacts with protected species."
Log books from 2005 and 2012 showed fishing crews self-reported an average of 12 incidents per year where set gillnets caught a California sea lion or harbor seal. Federal officials estimated the real number is 212 per year, based on fishery data acquired on trips where an observer was on board.
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