EarthTrust's "DriftNetwork" Program

EarthTrust exposed global driftnetting and led the world campaign to ban high-seas driftnets, from its early expeditions to a United Nations Ban and beyond. Find out about the most successful marine conservation campaign in history - and why it still needs your help!

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ET expedition photo: Dead Baby Dolphin Entangled in High-Seas Driftnet

What are Driftnets?
Driftnets are 8-15 meter deep nets made of fine nylon mesh used to fish for stocks of tuna, salmon, and squid. The nets are nearly transparent and are set below the surface to drift overnight. Between 2-90 kms in length, driftnets function as hanging "walls of death" for nearly everything they encounter. Fleets from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan formerly deployed some 50,000 kms of gillnet on a daily basis until the United Nations moratorium which began in 1993 (and which Earthtrust heavily lobbied for at the United Nations). These fleets operated in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. Larger mesh nets were also used extensively by these fleets to target billfish and albacore on a worldwide basis. Despite the United Nations moratorium, pirate driftnetters continue to wreak havoc on deep ocean ecosystems. The ongoing purpose of the DriftNetwork is to expose and stop pirate driftnetting wherever it occurs.  

It is expected to make a big resurgence in coming years, as more-expensive fuel alters the economics of far-seas fisheries and enforcement. We expect to see it pick up again in a big way. 

Because of its well documented history of destruction of marine fisheries and wildlife populations, driftnetting is now widely considered to be the most destructive fishing technology ever devised by humankind. Combined mortalities to dolphins and other small cetaceans impacted by these nets were measured in the early 1990's to be in excess of several hundred thousand each year. In addition, millions of seabirds, tens of thousands of seals, thousands of sea turtles and great whales, and huge quantities of non-target fish species were killed in these nets each year. Pirate driftnetters--though less numerous than their formerly "legal" counterparts, continue these destructive practices.

Driftnet fishing is clearly unsustainable and causes indiscriminate mortalities to wildlife and non-target species. Stopping pirate driftnetting--as commercial driftnetting has been stopped--would preserve marine resources and wildlife populations and offer much needed protection to the majority of fishermen who use viable economic and environmentally sustainable methods of fishing. It would also end the destruction caused by the loss of thousands of miles of net each year. Lost nets, also called "ghost" nets, continue to 'fish' as they float at sea until sinking under the weight of their victims or washing ashore where they entangle seals and seabirds.

Earthtrust and Driftnets
Earthtrust's involvement in successfully curtailing the early excesses of driftnetting goes back to 1983. The document Earthtrust and Driftnets: A Capsule History sums up Earthtrust's initial activities coordinating the international issue as it was defined, which climaxed in a United Nations moratorium on driftnet use on the high seas (i.e. those ocean waters outside the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones of individual nations) starting in 1993. Pirate driftnetting, however, continues. Even at its current level it may be the largest killer of sperm whales and many other kinds of animals in the world. Earthtrust is seeking funding to expand the DriftNetwork program through 2011 and beyond.

In an open letter, Noel Brown, then-Director of the United Nation's Environment Program, said

"As far as I know, the only mechanism now proposed which may credibly provide the information necessary to implement the full Moratorium is the concept of the DriftNetwork planned by Earthtrust."

The ecosystem damages brought on by driftnetting are extensively documented in Earthtrust's landmark white paper, titled High Seas Driftnetting: The Plunder of the Global Commons, by international wildlife law expert Linda Paul.

The moratorium on deep-sea driftnets is not only Earthtrust's largest vistory, it is possibly the largest environmental victory in history. In terms of biomass, species, fish populations, and number of creatures saved which would have been wastefully destroyed, the numbers are almost incomprehensible.

Ironically, though, this huge but partial victory brought a certain complacency to the issue. Even though illegal driftnetting is still going on, and "legal" driftnetting is occuring within the 200-mile limits of some nations, contributions and effort to end activities in the Pacific and Indian oceans have virtually dried up. It is estimated that each Taiwanese driftnet boat recently fishing the Indian Ocean killed roughly 50 sperm whales per season, making this the largest such whale kill in the world today; yet conventional wisdom seems to be that the issue is solved.

Earthtrust is dedicated to continuing the work on what is STILL one of the premier dangers to the marine ecosystem, whales, dolphins, seabirds, turtles, and other creatures. Contributions made to Earthtrust's DriftNetwork Campaign will be designated exclusively for that use.

Pirate driftnetters are still operating, and have been for over a decade! Earthtrust--a small organization with minimal resources--has documented their operations on several occassions. One well-publicized incident, in which Earthtrust was closely involved, is summarized here in an excerpt from Earthtrust's December 1995 "President's Letter".  The situation has not improved since that time.

The Manager of Earthtrust's DriftNetwork Program is Sue White, a long-time veteran of critical
wildlife conservation efforts.

Historic Gallery: The DritNetwork in Action

Earthtrust's 1988 Driftnet Expedition:
Diver with dead juvenile dolphin entangled in an open ocean driftnet

Earthtrust's 1988 Driftnet Expedition:
Dead swordfish. Driftnets are causing massive depletions to billfish populations

Earthtrust's 1988 Driftnet Expedition:
Earthtrust campaigner with dead dolphin

Earthtrust's 1988 Driftnet Expedition:
Earthtrust's Jim Logan in Zodiac checking driftnet by-catch

Earthtrust's 1988 Driftnet Expedition:
The Sea Dragon

Earthtrust team at the United Nations in 1991:
Jim Logan, Art van Remundt, Linda Paul, and Sue White


Click here to find out How You Can Help Earthtrust.



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