Pacific Bycatch Limits for Whales, Dolphins, and Sea Turtles

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following

Why it Matters

Bycatch limits – a cap on the numbers of other species that can be caught when fishing for a targeted species – are intended to ensure healthy population numbers. Whales, dolphins, turtles, and many other species are hauled up dead or dying in gillnets (called this because they entangle fish by their gills) used to catch swordfish. Some of these “bycatch” animals are endangered and reproduce slowly, so that the ripple effect of individual losses can be felt quickly across the population.

Current Status

The rule to limit bycatch from gillnets in the Pacific fishery has been withdrawn.


On October 13, 2016 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed limits on the numbers of whales, turtles, and dolphins that could be killed by thresher shark and swordfish fisherman in the Pacific fleet. Four species of whales (fin, humpback, sperm, and short-finned pilot), four species of sea turtles (leatherback, loggerhead, olive ridley, and green), and bottlenose dolphins were on the list of protected species. Under the proposed rule, once the “hard cap” on bycatch was reached the fishery would be closed for up to two seasons (using a rolling two-year period).

Trump Era

On June 12, 2017 the proposed rule was withdrawn.

On July 17, 2017 Oceana sued NMFS over the withdrawal. Oceana v. NOAA/NMFS. No. 2:17-cv-05146 (C.D. Cal.)

HLS Student Orgs

Search Our Site

HLS Evironmental Law on Twitter