Bipartisan Bill to Protect Whales, Dolphins, Sea Turtles from Drift Gillnets Draws Broad Support
Feb 26 2021
Washington—A broad coalition of conservation and sportfishing organizations have announced their support for the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) to phase out deadly large mesh drift gillnets used in federal waters off the coast of California, the only place the nets are still used in the United States.
Large mesh drift gillnets are used 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 net “walls,” injuring or killing them. Most of these animals, referred to as bycatch, are then discarded.
The bill would phase out the use of the nets and help the industry transition to more sustainable methods like deep-set buoy gear that uses a hook-and-buoy system. Deep-set buoy gear, which attracts swordfish with bait and alerts fishermen immediately when a bite is detected, has been proven to catch more swordfish with a significantly lower bycatch rate
More information about the bill can be found here.
“The broad support for our bill is reflective of the need to remove harmful drift gillnets from our waters,” said Senator Feinstein. “Large mesh drift gillnets kill indiscriminately, leaving a trail of dead dolphins, whales, sea turtles and other marine animals in their wake. Our bill would phase out drift gillnets and transition to more efficient, sustainable and profitable methods of fishing.”
Support from a range of organizations
“For many years, our community has supported efforts to transition away from drift gillnets to safer, more selective fishing methods for swordfish, tuna and other commercial species,” said Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association. “We owe a great deal of gratitude to Senators Feinstein and Capito for their continued leadership on this important legislation. We’re eager to see the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act passed into law as it would represent a tremendous marine conservation victory that we have been working toward for decades.”
“Whales, dolphins and sea turtles have been drowning in large-mesh drift gillnets off California for far too long,” said Jacqueline Savitz, chief policy officer for Oceana. “It’s past time to get these indiscriminate ‘Walls of Death’ out of our oceans and shift to more sustainable fishing methods, like deep-set buoy gear, to catch swordfish. We applaud Senators Feinstein and Capito for reintroducing this bill that protects ocean wildlife and benefits West Coast fishermen and communities.”
“We thank Senators Feinstein and Capito for their steadfast commitment to the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “The sportfishing community has long advocated for transitioning away from destructive drift gillnets, which overwhelmingly kill non-target marine species, and we urge swift passage of this commonsense legislation.”
“Through collaborative efforts, and the support of more than 115,000 people, State Senate Bill 1017 was passed more than two years ago, paving the way for this long over-due act,” said Cristina Mittermeier, co-founder of SeaLegacy and president of the Only One Collective. “These collective efforts are a testament to the power of grassroots action, and we're confident that the federal bipartisan legislation necessary to help ensure large mesh drift-nets are no longer used off California's coast will be enacted.”
“Drift gillnets are an antiquated fishing gear that incurs an intolerable amount of bycatch,” said Jason Schratwieser, president of the International Game Fish Association. “This bill provides a clear path to eliminating drift gillnets, while also providing commercial fishermen with sustainable, alternative gear that benefits them and marine resources alike.”
“California’s swordfish fleet throws overboard more marine life than it keeps due to the indiscriminate nature of drift gillnets,” said Jennifer Browning, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Conserving Marine Life in the United States project. “With this legislation, fishermen would receive financial assistance to switch to more selective fishing methods, such as deep-set buoy gear, which has proved effective in both catching swordfish and significantly reducing bycatch.”
“We’ve relied on out-moded driftnet gear for too long,” said Theresa Labriola, Pacific program director for Wild Oceans. “The end of drift gillnets signals a start for the next generation of sustainable fishing gear that supports a healthy ocean ecosystem and helps fishing communities prosper. We have a moral obligation to share the ocean and to preserve it as a gift to our children and our grandchildren. This legislation gives commercial fishermen a path forward to switch to cleaner swordfish gear and a role in our healthy ocean community.”
“This legislation will end the last drift gillnet fishery in the United States and save marine wildlife from being captured and killed in horrifying amounts,” said Annalisa Batanides Tuel, policy and advocacy manager for the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “After working for more than 20 years to save marine species from falling victim to the West Coast drift gillnet fishery, we are hopeful a new administration will quickly pass our bill so we can finally end this destructive fishing method.”
“We strongly support ridding our waters of drift gillnets,” said Stephanie Kurose, senior endangered species policy specialist for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Banning these walls of death will save countless whales, dolphins and sea turtles off California’s coast. Strong bipartisan majorities oppose this horrific fishing practice and now we have a president poised to sign this critical legislation.”