Environmental groups hail passage of drift gillnet bill in US Senate

Published on
July 29, 2020

A bipartisan bill that would eliminate the use of drift gillnets to catch swordfish and thresher sharks in Pacific Ocean waters within five years passed the U.S. Senate last week.

Senate Bill 906 passed by voice vote in the chamber on Thursday, 23 July. It now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives, which has until the end of the year to consider the legislation.

“We are now one step closer to removing these nets from our waters,” said U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who co-sponsored the measure with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), in a statement. “There is no reason to allow the carnage of large mesh drift gillnets when there are better, more sustainable methods to catch swordfish. We can preserve the economically important swordfishing industry while protecting the ocean and its wildlife that are vital to California’s economy.”

The bill not only calls for the nets to be eliminated over a five-year window, it also calls on the federal government to work with commercial fishermen in making the transition to gear that leads to more sustainable fishing.

Environmental groups claimed the Senate’s vote as a victory. They claim the net, some of which are a mile wide, led to entanglements with several protected or endangered species.

“Drift gillnets are responsible for trapping and killing more than 60 different species of marine wildlife, and this legislation will ensure no more whales or dolphins fall victim to this unsustainable fishery,” Turtle Island Restoration Network Police and Advocacy Manager Annalisa Batanides Tuel said in a statement.

Currently, the nets are only allowed in waters off the coasts of California and Oregon. However, California legislators passed a similar bill into law two years ago that eliminates their use in state waters by 2022.

The Feinstein-Caputo bill would make federal law nearly identical with California’s.

“It’s long past time to get these ‘Walls of Death’ out of our oceans,” said Oceana Deputy Vice President for the U.S. Pacific Susan Murray. “There are better and cleaner ways to catch swordfish that don’t kill whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals. Now is the time for us to stop using these deadly nets and convert to proven alternatives, such as deep-set buoy gear.”

Photo courtesy of Rich Carey

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