WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House of Representatives today passed the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to phase out harmful large mesh drift gillnets utilized in the federal waters off the coast of California, the only place the nets are still used in the United States. The Senate passed the bill in July and it now heads to President Donald J. Trump to be signed into law.
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 extend 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.
“While the use of large mesh drift gillnets 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,” said Senator Capito. “These driftnets are left in the ocean overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. However, at least 60 other marine species, such as seals and turtles, can also become entangled in these nets, injuring or killing them. I’m thrilled this legislation has now passed the House and look forward to the president signing this into law.”
“We’re finally close to removing deadly large mesh drift gillnets from California’s waters,” said Senator Feinstein. “Federal waters off the coast of California are the last place in the United States these nets are still used to catch swordfish. However, they also indiscriminately kill whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles and other marine animals in the process. I’m hopeful the president will now sign our bipartisan bill to phase out these harmful nets and help the industry transition to more efficient, sustainable and profitable methods.”
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 nets, 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 in California is responsible for 90 percent of the dolphins and porpoises killed along the West Coast and Alaska.
These 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.
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 94 percent of animals caught with deep-set buoys are actually swordfish, resulting in far less bycatch than drift gillnets.
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 driftnets, resulting in higher-quality products that bring a higher price.
# # #