A month after Trump's veto, Feinstein refiles driftnet ban bill

Published on
February 10, 2021

A bipartisan bill to end the use of drift gillnets to catch swordfish has been reintroduced in the U.S. Senate a month after then-President Donald Trump vetoed similar legislation.

U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) refiled their bill, entitled the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, on Monday, 8 February. The bill calls for a ban on using the mile-long nets that reach 200 feet below the ocean surface.

Fishermen leave the nets in place overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. However, the nets also lead to substantial bycatch as other marine species, including dolphins, whales, and sea turtles, can become entangled. In some cases, those creatures suffer fatal injuries. A statement from Feinstein said the nets are responsible for 90 percent of the dolphins and porpoises killed on the West Coast and Alaska.

“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,” she said.

The federal legislation mirrors a law California passed in 2018 that phased out the use of the nets over a four-year period.

In a message on 1 January, Trump said he vetoed the bill because it would force about 30 family-owned businesses to close and increase American reliance on seafood imports. That veto came too late for Congress to override, as its new term began less than a week later.

In her statement, Feinstein said the bill includes a buyout program like the California law. That program already has more than 90 percent participation. She added that U.S. fishermen using deep-set buoy gear ended up catching four times the number of swordfish as those still using driftnets. Studies indicate swordfish consist of 98 percent of the species caught by buoy gear. In driftnets, it’s about 50 percent.

The swordfish fishery is the last American fishery still using driftnets. The bill again has the support from environmental advocacy firm Oceana.

“The swift introduction of this bill that former President Trump foolishly vetoed demonstrates the increasing momentum toward the ultimate end to harmful drift gillnets,” said Oceana’s Deputy Vice President for the U.S. Pacific Susan Murray in a statement. “With proven alternatives like deep-set buoy gear that allow for the catching of swordfish without arbitrarily catching and killing so many other animals, it’s long past time to get these ‘Walls of Death’ out of our oceans.”

Photo courtesy of coka/Shutterstock

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