Press Releases

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

Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) today introduced the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, a bipartisan bill to phase out the use of harmful large mesh driftnets off the coast of California.

The driftnets, which can be 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 discarded.

“The use of driftnets to target swordfish harms too many endangered or protected marine animals and should be phased out,” Senator Feinstein said. “It’s unacceptable that a single California fishery that uses this type of driftnet is killing more dolphins and porpoises than the rest of the West Coast combined. Our bipartisan bill will remove harmful large mesh driftnets from our oceans and encourage more sustainable fishing methods.”

“While the use of driftnets is already prohibited off the coasts of most states, these tools are still injuring or killing a whole host of marine animals off California’s coast,” Senator Capito said. “This bipartisan legislation will help ensure large mesh driftnets are no longer used in any U.S. waters, protecting our marine wildlife from this harmful practice.”

“We must protect the well-being of marine wildlife and ensure it is not jeopardized by the presence of driftnets, and the unintended consequences left in their wake,” Senator Harris said. “California has a responsibility to the nation to provide a prosperous coast for these species which play a vital role in the development of sustainable fisheries.”

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 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 rule last year that would have increased accountability in the California swordfish fishery. The bill phases out the use of large mesh driftnets in all U.S. waters by 2020 and authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop a program to help fisheries transition to more sustainable methods.