California budget includes final funding for drift gillnet buyout

A net hanging in the wharf in San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

A budget deal reached between state lawmakers and California Governor Gavin Newsom includes funding that will complete the state's buyout of drift gillnets from commercial fishing operators who catch swordfish. 

The USD 1.3 million (EUR 1.1 million) will help fishermen purchase safer gear that doesn't threaten other marine wildlife.

California is the last state in the U.S. where such nets, which are typically cast at night, are used. The mile-long nets are known to entangle sea lions, turtles, whales, dolphins, and various fish species.

"We are absolutely thrilled to know that our children and grandchildren will grow up with a California ocean free of deadly drift gillnets," Oceana California Campaign Director Geoff Shester said in a statement released Tuesday, 29 June.

According to the Oceana release, all but four of the 32 active swordfishing operators agreed to participate in the buyout program. 

Those who agree to turn in their gear will receive USD 110,000 (EUR 92,834) and get priority for a new federal permit to use deep-set buoy gear.

The funding for the buyout program was mandated when the California legislature passed Senate Bill 1017 in 2018. That bill required both the state and other sources to contribute to the fund covering the payments.

Oceana helped raise USD 1 million (EUR 843,943) for the fund thanks to donations by the Marisla Foundation, Cinco Hermanos Fund, Offield Family Foundation, the Sue J. Gross Foundation, and several families and individuals.

Under state law, all remaining drift gillnet licenses will be phased out by 31 January, 2024.

“Oceana is proud to be part of a collaborative partnership and solution to finally end the use of destructive drift gillnets off of California,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s deputy vice president for the Pacific.

The fishery has been subject to numerous lawsuits, including one filed by Oceana against NOAA Fisheries.

On the federal level, Congress passed a bill last year sponsored by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and U.S. Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) that would have banned the nets on a federal level. However, then-President Donald Trump vetoed that bill, and Congress did not have a chance to override that veto.

The two senators refiled the bill earlier this year.

Photo courtesy of Suzette Leg Anthony/Shutterstock


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