Press Releases

Large mesh driftnets indiscriminately kill or severely injure many endangered, protected marine species

Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) today reintroduced the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act (S.906), a bipartisan bill to phase out the use of harmful large mesh driftnets off the coast of California, the only place the nets continued to be used in the United States.

Last year, California passed a four-year phase out of driftnets in state waters to protect marine life. The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act would extend similar protections to all federal waters within five years and authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help fishermen transition to more sustainable nets.

Large mesh driftnets, which are more than a mile long, are left in the ocean overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. However, at least 60 other marine species, including whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, fish and sharks, can also become entangled in the large mesh nets, injuring or killing them. Most of these animals, referred to as bycatch, are then discarded. The use of large mesh driftnets by a single fishery in California is responsible for 90 percent of the dolphins and porpoises killed along the West Coast and Alaska.

“California took the important first step to protect marine animals from large mesh driftnets off our coast and it’s imperative we now extend those protections into federal waters,” Senator Feinstein said. “It’s heartbreaking that a single California fishery using this type of driftnet is killing more dolphins and porpoises than all other fisheries along the West Coast and Alaska combined. Our bipartisan bill will remove these harmful nets from all of California’s coastal waters and facilitate more sustainable fishing methods.”

“It’s important that we do what we can to protect marine wildlife,” Senator Capito said. “Unfortunately, large mesh driftnets—which are banned in all states—are still injuring or killing a large amount of marine animals off the coast of California. That’s why I’m proud to reintroduce this bipartisan bill that will ensure harmful driftnets are no longer allowed in any of our U.S. waters.”

 In the United States, large mesh driftnets are already banned in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, as well as off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii. However, they remain legal in federal waters off the coast of California. The United States is also a member of international agreements that ban large-scale driftnets in international waters.

The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act is necessary after the Trump administration rejected a proposed regulation in 2017 that would have increased accountability in the California swordfish fishery.