Won: State capitulates, agrees to allow swordfishermen to continue their trade and livelihoods

Fishing has been part of Austen Brown’s entire life. When he was eight years old, he began fishing with his father, gaining experience as a crew member and deckhand on boats up and down the West Coast. After getting his start with swordfish, Austen ran a boat in Alaska for nearly a decade, fishing for pollock and salmon, and most recently, he has run a longline boat in Hawaii, fishing for tuna.

Austen decided to return to California to pursue a career fishing for swordfish. He purchased the necessary equipment, including a vessel, as well as the required federal permit from another fisherman.

But California has other plans. California Senate Bill 1017, enacted in September of 2018, seeks to phase out the remaining state permits for harvesting swordfish with drift gill nets, which are the only commercially viable gear. This would purport to end swordfishing in the state, even though federal regulations expressly permit drift gill net fishing. (PLF successfully fought a misguided effort to end the federal authorization in another case.)

The ban is supposed to prevent accidental captures of other animals. However, with plenty of longstanding protections, such as seasonal closures and equipment and observer mandates for boats, unwanted bycatch is minimal. The ban would, however, destroy the sustainably caught American swordfish supply. Demand would then be satisfied by foreign markets, where environmental accountability and oversight are less stringent. The unintended result: more animals accidentally killed or injured.

To preserve an industry that’s fed Californians and supported their livelihoods for generations, several fishermen fought back with two cases in federal court in California.

In 2022, PLF settled and dismissed both cases after the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the attorney general revised their interpretation of the state’s Fish and Game Code and agreed to a settlement that would allow Austen Brown and other fishermen to continue their trade, so long as they continue to possess federal permits.

What’s At Stake?

  • California fishermen should have the economic freedom to keep their longtime family businesses and not see their livelihoods forcibly ruined by California’s misguided ban of the swordfishing industry.

Case Timeline