Undercover Video Reveals Deadly Impact of Drift Nets on California Marine Life

California’s drift-net fishery is under fire from a coalition of marine conservation and animal protection groups. These wildlife advocates released a damning undercover video last week, revealing just how often innocent marine life dies because of drift nets.

Deceptively small in size, California’s drift-net fishery has an enormous negative impact. The industry includes a fleet of about 20 active boats that place nets the size of the Golden Gate Bridge into the ocean.

There they float, a mile long and 100 feet deep, hanging vertically like a wall in the water. Unattended, they snag and entangle any poor creature that happens upon them — including those that fishermen didn’t intend to catch. That unfortunate unwanted marine life is called “by-catch.”

The coalition, comprised of Mercy For Animals, Turtle Island Restoration Network, SeaLegacy and Sharkwater, explains that drift nets “indiscriminately trap sea animals, including protected species such as dolphins, whales and sea lions, who are then killed or thrown away.”

To spread awareness, the coalition released the following video. Be warned that this film contains graphic footage:

California is typically a leader when it comes to conservation and environmental protection initiatives. In the case of drift-net use, sadly, the state is dead last. Drift-net — also known as gill net — fishing has been banned by the United Nations and by many countries around the world.

In the U.S., use of drift nets is illegal all along the East Coast. On the West Coast, the practice illegal in Oregon and Washington. Only California still allows the fishing industry to continue using these devices.

The California drift-net fishery ostensibly targets only swordfish, but many more sea creatures are trapped in these nets — and that’s the problem. For every one swordfish caught, an estimated seven other marine animals become entangled. Many of these creatures become injured or die, and others are killed by the fishermen to remove them from the nets

The by-catch numbers gathered by the Turtle Island Restoration Network are staggering. Over the past decade, the California driftnet fishery:

  • Caught about 26,000 sharks overall, with 10,000 of those tossed back overboard
  • Snagged 8,186 blue sharks, 8,180 of which were discarded. Of those discarded, nearly 5,313 were dead
  • Caught 8,000 common thresher sharks, a candidate species for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act

In addition to these species, drift nets catch and kill sea lions, whales, dolphins, salmon, sea turtles and even sea birds.

Photo credit: Mercy for Animals

Photo credit: Mercy for Animals

California’s drift-net fishery throws away nearly half of all the fish it catches and kills over 70 different by-catch marine species. The industry also has one of the highest rates of negative interactions with marine mammals and sea turtles along the West Coast.

“These nets are a mile long and hang 100 feet deep, and they’re designed to kill everything in their path,” Paul Nicklen, co-founder and expedition lead for SeaLegacy, said in a coalition press release. “If a dolphin, whale, turtle, swordfish, thresher shark, or mako shark swims into that net, they’re going to die.”

SB 1017 is currently under consideration by California lawmakers. If the bill passes, it would prioritize financial support for the deployment of innovative and sustainable fishing gear. Most importantly, it would begin to phase out drift-net use.

Come on, California. You’re trailing the world on this issue. Take a stand and require the fishing industry to use only sustainable fishing gear.

For that matter, it’s time for Congress to act on a national level. It’s time to actively reduce the problem of by-catch. Consign drift nets to the past, where they belong.

Photo Credit: Samuel Scrimshaw/Unsplash


Luna S
Past Member 4 months ago

once again great special effects but seriously this is the kind of fake crap nat geo is notorious for thiose animals are fake thankfully but if this were to happen lets not let it happen and the video is fake or filmed on a set thankfully

Mark Donner
Mark Donner5 months ago

All government prospects should be screened for criminal psychosis. California is not exempt from their government being taken over by murderers and criminals. The slime that infects government are receiving kickbacks from the destruction of life on Earth. That is worse than terrorism.

Filomena C
Filomena C5 months ago

So sad!
Humans don't respect other species.

Filomena C
Filomena C5 months ago


Georgina M
Georgina Elizab M5 months ago

Has no one and common sense anymore. They know perfectly well that they are killing those animals ....protected or not.

Danii P
Past Member 5 months ago

Thank you.

Margie F
Margie FOURIE5 months ago

Very sad

bob p
bob p5 months ago


Laura R
Laura R5 months ago

Thank you.

Ruth S
Ruth S5 months ago