If a Turtle Is Caught in a Gill Net and No One Is Watching …

Hakai Magazine

A recent investigation of the California drift gill net swordfishery has revealed a stark discrepancy between fishers’ self-reported accounts of by-catch rates and independently verified figures. Though the examination is of just one fishery, the finding casts doubt on the value of commercial fishers’ self-reporting.

In the new report, based on data garnered through a public records request to the US National Marine Fisheries Service, scientists with the environmental nonprofit Oceana show that while independent observers assigned to monitor California drift gill net swordfishing boats reported 292 entangled marine mammals and four sea turtles between 2001 and 2018, fishers working other boats in that same fishery claimed to have caught fewer than 30 marine mammals and zero sea turtles over the same period.

Given that observers only joined one swordfish gill netting trip in five, and that California’s swordfishers are required by law to self-report their by-catch, the dearth of self-reported incidents suggests a trove of missing data. Extrapolating from independently reported data, the report’s authors calculated that this small fleet of roughly 20 boats neglected to report more than 1,000 entangled whales and sea turtles.

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