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Gray Whale Severely Entangled in Gillnet Fishing Gear off California

by Oceana
Oceana Urges State Legislature to Pass Assembly Bill 2220 to Address These Entanglements
Oceana Urges State Legislature to Pass Assembly Bill 2220 to Address These Entanglements
April 9, 2024 - A gray whale observed entangled in monofilament gillnet fishing gear on March 22 off Laguna Beach may still be trailing the heavy fishing gear, elevating concern over the whale’s condition and ability to survive. Heavy net and multiple buoys are wrapped around the whale’s back and sitting atop its fluke (tail), according to a local whale watching company.

The company also reported a NOAA Large Whale Entanglement Response Team attempted to disentangle the gray whale, but it was distressed and reacted in a way that was not safe for the team. However, they were able to attach a satellite tag to track the whale’s location. The last known ping from the tag was on Monday, March 25 about 50 miles west of San Clemente Island. While the fishery of origin is not confirmed, the monofilament net is consistent with the type of gear used in the set gillnet fishery that catches California halibut and white seabass in Southern California waters and illustrates the types of injuries that occur to whales and other ocean animals from entanglement in the gear.

Set gillnets are one of the most indiscriminate ways to fish as the nets can be 20 football fields long (up to 6,000 feet) and are weighted to the seafloor. A suite of ocean animals become entangled in the net’s mesh including whales, sea lions, seabirds, sharks, and other fish. California voters passed Proposition 132 in 1990 prohibiting the use of these unselective nets within state waters off the Southern California mainland (0-3 nautical miles) and within one mile of offshore islands. Additionally, the California Fish and Game Commission banned the use of these nets off the Central California Coast in 2002. However, due to the complexities of these various actions, most Californians are unaware that these nets are still being used in waters beyond three miles from the Southern California coast, offshore banks, and in state waters around California’s Channel Islands, with continued high rates of bycatch. California gray whales recently suffered an unusual mortality event and are currently designated as California’s state marine mammal.

The fishery involved in the entanglement of this gray whale may never be confirmed because there are insufficient requirements to clearly mark this type of gear—a problem Oceana is urging California fishery managers to address. At their April 17 meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission will consider new regulations that would require unique gear marking of set gillnets so they can be distinguished from other fisheries in the event of future entanglements, in addition to limiting soak times (the time the nets sit underwater) and net height. Additionally, new state legislation—Assembly Bill 2220, authored by Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-Ventura) and co-sponsored by Oceana and Resource Renewal Institute—will further reduce entanglement of marine mammals, sharks, and other fish in the state’s set gillnet fishery by addressing remaining management concerns that require legislative changes.

Caitlynn Birch, Oceana’s Pacific Marine Scientist released the following statement in response:

“The entanglement of this gray whale is another heartbreaking reminder of the types of injuries and potentially deadly outcomes to ocean life off our coast from fishery interactions. California’s set gillnet fishery in particular threatens the biodiversity that makes our marine ecosystems globally important. Californians have already voted to remove these nets off our shores and the state is now well positioned to uphold those concerns and protect ocean biodiversity for future generations. We commend the California Fish and Game Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife for their dedicated efforts to address the bycatch impacts in the state’s set gillnet fishery and we urge the state legislature to support Assembly Bill 2220 which will further protect whales, sharks, and other ocean life from deadly entanglements.”

If you encounter an entangled whale at sea:

* DO NOT approach or try to disentangle it. Disentangling whales can be extremely dangerous and should only be done by trained rescuers.
* DO call the NOAA Entangled Whale Hotline 1-877-SOS-WHALe (1-877-767-9425) or hail the Coast Guard on VHF CH 16.
* DO TRY TO STAY WITH THE WHALE: Remain at least 100 yards away. Without approaching, document its location, speed, direction, and behavior while taking photos and videos.

For more information on Oceana’s campaign to protect ocean biodiversity from entanglement in set gillnets visit:

For more information about AB 2220 click here:

Photo Credit: ©Nona Reimer

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 300 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit to learn more.
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