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Removing the Gillnets

Removing the Gillnets

For over 25 years, the southern California sportfishing community watched the white seabass and halibut resource continue to decline, knowing the cause was gillnets. Nearshore monofilament "set" gillnets were wreaking havoc on local marine resources. Sportfishing interests were unable to get the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) or the state legislature to take the problem seriously, so in 1990, sportfishermen took the gillnet issue to the people. Led by state assemblywoman Doris Allen, the required 600,000 signatures were gathered to put proposition 132 on the 1990 November ballot, and Californians passed this "gillnet initiative" that removed set gillnets from state waters in southern California. Not only did this effort bring about the recovery of halibut, white seabass and other species, but it also helped set a precedent that led to subsequent net bans in Florida and other states.

AFTCO played an important role by supporting Doris Allen in this effort. AFTCO President Bill Shedd worked with Bill Ray to form United Anglers of Southern California (UASC), a sportfishing conservation group initially created to support the gillnet ban. Shedd served on Allen's management committee, coordinating the economic arguments supporting the gillnet ban, and organizing AFTCO employees and others in the signature gathering effort.

Unlike nearshore set gillnets, "drift" gillnets are used in the open ocean, where they cause their own indescriminate destruction of marine life, fish, birds, turtles and mammals alike. In the mid-1990's, a commercial fisherman contacted Milt Shedd to say that, after many years of watching such destruction as a California drift gillnetter, he had developed a conscience. He now wanted the world to know what he knew about gillnets, and he had taken video during his last year of fishing in northern Mexican waters that showed by-kill of marlin, whales, turtles, sharks and more. He said that if he could remain anonymous and AFTCO would agree to not use the tape for a least a year, he would turn it over to AFTCO, who could thereafter expose the footage to the world.

After a year had passed, Milt and Bill teamed up with others to arrange a press conference televised in Los Angeles, New York and London. Millions of viewers saw the destruction on their local TV stations. In one instance, the gillnetter caught and threw back over 100 dead marlin in a single set. He moved 80 to 100 miles away in an effort to avoid the billfish, but with the next set inadvertently caught 50 more marlin, graphic proof of the lack of control the commercial fisherman has with destructive gear like gillnets.

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