Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to End Last Driftnet Fishery in United States

Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to End Last Driftnet Fishery in United States

For Immediate Release, February 8, 2021

Contact: Annalisa Tuel, Advocacy & Policy Manager, atuel@seaturtles.org, 408-621-8113

Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to End Last Driftnet Fishery in United States

Bill banning large mesh drift gillnets passed Congress last year, vetoed by Trump

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today reintroduced the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, a bill to phase out 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. 

Congress passed the bill last year with overwhelming support but it was vetoed by President Trump on January 1, which left too little time to schedule an override vote.

Large mesh driftnets more than a mile long are left in the ocean overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks but also indiscriminately capture, injure, and kill other marine species including whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, fish, and sharks. Most of these animals, referred to as “bycatch,” are then discarded. The use of driftnets by a single fishery in California is responsible for 90 percent of the dolphins and porpoises killed along the West Coast and Alaska. At least six endangered, threatened, or protected species are harmed by driftnets off the California coast.

“This legislation will end the last drift gill net 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 Turtle Island Restoration Network. “After working for more than 20 years to save marine species from falling victim to the West Coast drift gill net fishery, we are hopeful a new administration will quickly pass our bill so we can finally end this destructive fishing method.”

In 2018 California passed a four-year phase out of large mesh drift gillnets in state waters to protect marine life. The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act would have extended similar protections to federal waters within five years and authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help the commercial fishing industry transition to more sustainable gear types like deep-set buoy gear that uses a hook-and-buoy system. Deep-set buoy gear attracts swordfish with bait and alerts fishermen immediately when a bite is detected. Testing has shown that 94 percent of animals caught with deep-set buoys are swordfish, resulting in far less bycatch than drift gillnets.

Large mesh drift gillnets are already banned in the U.S. territorial waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the 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.

Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) has led a coalition of concerned citizens and partner organizations for nearly 20 years to stop the devastating impact this fishery has on ocean animals. The nonprofit sued the federal government in 2001 to prohibit drift gillnet fishing in leatherback sea turtle foraging grounds each year, shutting down 250,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean off California, Oregon, and Washington and reducing the number of leatherback deaths in the fishery from 112 between 1990 and 2001 to almost zero between 2001 and 2012.

TIRN has published numerous reports on the impacts the California driftnet fishery has on ocean animals and the economy, and worked with a coalition in 2018 to release gruesome undercover footage from driftnet fishing vessels showcasing the continued need to address the ongoing harm driftnets pose to wildlife. The video, which included footage of a bloodied, dead dolphin, garnered millions of views and spurred thousands to call for legislative action.

Turtle Island Restoration Network is a global ocean conservation nonprofit based in Olema, California whose mission is to inspire and mobilize people around the world to protect marine biodiversity and the oceans that sustain all life on Earth. Learn more at www.seaturtles.org. 

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