Case Study: Drift Nets

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 1 Mar 1995 13:49:12

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From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@FLO.ORG>
Subject: Case Study:  Drift Nets
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High seas driftnets are a very efficient way of catching fish and other
creatures; but the bycatch, and potential for overfishing to the point of
stock collapse, have been found to be generally unacceptable by the global
Between 1988 and 1992,  up to 1500 Asian high seas driftnet vessels set each
year in the Pacific and Indian oceans. The principle driftnet nations were
Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea;   a few boats were registered in Mainland
China as well.  Each  vessel would deploy on the average 35 miles of net per
night, capable of entangling everything in the topmost layer of the sea larger
than their mesh size.
In 1991, the United Nations unanimously passed "UNGA 46/215, a resolution
which called for a moratorium on the use of high seas driftnetting.  High seas
driftnets, as per the U.N.,  are defined as gillnets that are left to drift
and which are deployed beyond the EEZ of any  nation.   (US law has defined
driftnets as gill nets over 2.5 km. )
The United Nations has no  intelligence or enforcement mechanisms  for
environmental resolutions.  Its strength lies in international pressure only.
However, the principle Asian nations agreed to officially abide by the
moratorium and ordered their fisheries to not violate the UN moratorium.
Earthtrust anticipated that not all fishermen would abide by the moratorium,
and in 1991 created a network of NGO's, fishermen and others, called the
"DriftNetwork", to monitor and report on driftnet activity.  As the fishing
methodology is very lucrative, Earthtrust has been receiving reports of
violations of the moratorium.  The majority of the reports concern reflagged
Taiwanese vessels.
We're posting this notice on MARMAM due to the large bycatch of marine mammals
which are often taken in the course of this fishing, particularly in
relatively pristine areas.  A UNFAO workshop  in 1989  estimated that between
300,000 and one million dolphins died in the commercial high seas driftnet
fishery that year.  Untold numbers of large cetaceans are taken as well.  One
report estimated that up to 6,950 sperm whales may have been taken in the 1990
Indian Ocean Taiwanese driftnet fishery.   Though now cut back in scale,
driftnetting probably remains one of the leading global causes of cetacean
The U.N. Driftnet Moratorium was a historic resolution, but it only works as a
conservation tool and a precedent if there is  monitoring input and the
potential for enforcement. The DriftNetwork is an attempt to create (on a very
low budget) a network of people around the world to help gather and pass on
information about sightings and operation of these "rogue" driftnet vessels
around the world.  A DriftNetwork expose of two Taiwanese boats found in the
harbor in Singapore in April of 1993 resulted in the recall and revokation of
the licenses of those boats by Taiwan.  Recent Earthtrust investigations in
Indonesia, Malaysia and Mainland China provided anectdotal reports of boats as
well as photo documentation of boats whose activities are suspected to take
place beyond the 200 mile limit. However, we're far from a worldwide overview
of driftnetting activity.
The DriftNetwork needs the following information:
1) Reports of high seas driftnet activity
2) Contacts within nations, particularly the Dalian area of Mainland China,
Singapore and other suspected ports of boats which are violating the UN
drifnet moratorium.
3) National Laws and Regulations  pertaining to driftnet activity per nation.
4) Reports of Bilateral agreements being made between large fishing nations
and smaller nations to conduct driftnet fishing within in their EEZ's and/or
to allow the traversing of high seas driftnet boats through their waters and
use their ports.
 The DriftNetwork is a project of Earthtrust, a conservation-oriented U.S. NGO
based in Hawaii.  A briefing document on worldwide use of high seas
driftnetsis available on disk, and soon via the internet, upon request.
If you think you might like to become a part of the DriftNetwork,  or want
more infomation, you may send e-mail to director Sue White at e-mail address:
best regards to the operators and subscribers of MARMAM