WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), today reintroduced the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, a bipartisan bill to phase out harmful 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, which are between a mile and a mile-and-a-half long and can extend 200 feet below the ocean surface, 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 net “walls,” injuring or killing them. Most of these animals, referred to as bycatch, are then discarded. The use of large mesh drift gillnets by a single fishery based in California is responsible for 90 percent of the dolphins and porpoises killed along the West Coast and Alaska.
“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. “I’m proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation that will help ensure large mesh driftnets are no longer used in any U.S. waters, protecting our marine wildlife from this harmful practice.”
“Let’s be clear: the Senate unanimously passed our bill and the House passed it shortly thereafter. There is no support to continue using these deadly nets in our waters,” Senator Feinstein said. “Large mesh driftnets indiscriminately kill whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles and other marine animals. It’s time to transition the industry to more efficient, sustainable and profitable methods. Real-time data shows other fishing gear is more successful, profitable and sustainable. Now that we have a new administration, I’m hopeful that Congress will quickly pass our bill and we can begin to phase driftnets out.”
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 attracts swordfish with bait and alerts fishermen immediately when a bite is detected. Testing has shown that as much as 98 percent of animals caught with deep-set buoys are actually swordfish, resulting in far less bycatch than large mesh drift gillnets, which average a 50 percent catch rate of target species.
A seven-year study by the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research found that fishing vessels using the new deep-set buoy gear caught 83 percent more swordfish than those using traditional large mesh drift gillnets. Also, because vessels are alerted as soon as there is a bite, swordfish are transported to markets faster than with large mesh drift gillnets, resulting in higher-quality products that bring a higher price.
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