Sac Bee: Buoys provide safer alternative for catching swordfish in Pacific Ocean


Bottlenose dolphins swimming in the ocean, sea turtles feeding along our shore, majestic whales traversing the coast – all of these are signs of a healthy and vibrant Pacific Ocean that makes California’s coastline unique.

Fishing is also part of our state’s heritage. That’s why we have joined with thousands of other California residents writing to encourage West Coast fishery leaders to authorize a promising new fishing gear that minimizes harm to the iconic species that define our coast while also sustaining a productive swordfish industry.

We believe that the Pacific Fishery Management Council should authorize deep-set buoy gear as an alternative for commercial fishermen targeting West Coast swordfish. It is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the issue Thursday and vote on Friday.

Now, the predominant method of catching swordfish on the West Coast involves submerging mile-long drift gillnets overnight. Not surprisingly, these nets entangle many species of marine life other than swordfish. In fact, 65 percent of the catch is thrown overboard, including dolphins, striped marlin and even the occasional whale.

Even though California’s swordfish fleet is relatively small – only about 20 active vessels – the indiscriminate nature of this fishing method means that it kills more dolphins, whales and porpoises than all other fisheries on the West Coast and Alaska combined. California is the only state on the West Coast that still allows the use of harmful drift gillnets in its swordfish fishery.

We believe there is a better way. Through collaborative grants, the California Ocean Protection Council has supported the research and development of alternatives for catching swordfish, most notably deep-set buoy gear. The gear works by dropping weighted hooks as deep as 1,200 feet below the surface, where swordfish tend to stay during the daytime. When an indicator float drops below the surface, fishermen immediately pull in the line.

After five years of research and experimental fishing, buoy gear has earned the support of fishermen, seafood buyers and chefs for two big reasons: It minimizes the catch of species the fishermen don’t want, while earning a premium for sustainably caught swordfish.

About 94 percent of the catch can be kept and sold. In addition, because buoy-caught swordfish is put on ice within minutes of being caught, it produces a higher-quality product and a higher price for fishermen.

That’s why we are encouraging the Pacific Fishery Management Council to authorize deep-set buoy gear in 2016. It’s crucial that we provide swordfish fishermen the ability to earn a living while safeguarding ocean wildlife valued by all of us.

Gavin Newsom is lieutenant governor of California and can be contacted at Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, represents the 26th Senate District and can be contacted at