Deep-set buoy gear could boost swordfish fishery

A new fishing gear design could help advance sustainable fishing and minimize harmful bycatch.

STATEWIDE—A new advancement in sustainable fishing practices could help avoid deadly harm to various bycatch. The Pacific Fishery Management Council approved the advancement, called deep-set buoy gear, as an authorized tool to catch swordfish.

Deep-set buoy gears would be used as a replacement to large-mesh drift gillnets, which are still being used in California to catch swordfish. The use of gillnets, which could be up to one-mile long in length, often result marine mammals and other species being caught in the process, however, causing them to suffer serious harm or death.

Environmental groups such as Oceana and Pew Charitable Trusts have been advocating for deep-set buoy gears to be deployed into the ocean as a sustainable fishing practice.

The council reportedly spent eight years researching and testing deep-set buoy gears. A successful run of the fishing gear could help dolphins, turtles, whales and other marine wildlife from being caught and harmed or killed.

“This innovative fishing approach uses a hook-and-buoy system that enables fishermen to drop their hooks as deep as 1,200 feet, where swordfish typically feed during the day,” Pew Charitable Trusts staff wrote in a blog post ahead of the Pacific Fishery Management Council meetings, which was held on Sept. 13 and 14 in Boise, Idaho. “When a bite-indicator buoy is triggered, fishermen can respond within minutes. If the catch is a swordfish or other marketable species, they can land it; if it is another animal, they can release it alive. By contrast, drift gillnets are deployed at night near the surface – where many species congregate – resulting in dramatically higher bycatch of those species.”

Scientists have performed more than 8,000 hours of on-water tests of deep-set buoy gears, according to Pew staff. The testing showed a “dramatically lower bycatch of dolphins, sea turtles and whale,” Pew staff stated.

“In addition, swordfish caught with buoy gear – because they are brought to market quickly – often sell for a higher price than those landed in drift gillnets.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote a letter to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council in support of the deep-set buoy gear.

“Deep-set buoy gear is a proven method of harvesting West Coast swordfish while minimizing bycatch of iconic Pacific Ocean marine wildlife such as dolphins, whales and turtles, as well as recreationally important species like striped marlin,” Feinstein wrote to the council. “Authorization of this gear would facilitate continued progress toward a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly fishery.

“Importantly, final authorization of deep-set buoy gear would better facilitate multiple policy objectives that Congress established for U.S. fisheries management under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, including requirements to achieve optimum yield in each fishery and minimize the bycatch of non-target species,” Feinstein continued.

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