US Senate approves drift gillnet ban again

Published on
September 21, 2021
A driftnet underwater

A bill banning large drift gillnets from being used in federal waters has unanimously been approved in the U.S. Senate.

Now S.273, also known as the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration. The bill’s chances there are good, considering the legislative body passed the same measure last year. However, former U.S. President Donald Trump vetoed the bill on 1 January, claiming it would lead to more imported seafood entering the country.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who sponsored both bills, said in a statement that Trump’s veto was based on misinformation. Current U.S. President Joe Biden is likely to sign the bill into law, should the House approve the bill.

“Drift gillnets indiscriminately kill whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles, and other marine animals,” said Feinstein, who co-sponsored the bill with U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia). “They have no place in our waters when more efficient, sustainable, and profitable methods are available. I’m working with my House colleagues to move this bill through their chamber and get it to the president’s desk as quickly as possible. It’s time to phase out these harmful drift gillnets.”

Three years ago, California lawmakers signed off on a four-year phase out of the large drift gillnet fishery in state waters. Feinstein’s bill closely resembles the California plan, under which fishing equipment would be banned in federal waters within five years. It also calls on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to work with fishermen still using the nets to switch to gear that’s less harmful to other species.

Many California fishermen have already agreed to take part in the state buyout program, which included funds raised by Oceana. As statement from the conservation group noted that approximately 20 miles of driftnet gear has been turned in as part of that initiative.

The legislation pushed by Feinstein and Capito calls for a federal grant program to help with the buyouts, with fishermen using the money to switch to other gear. Oceana noted that during the 2020-2021 season, fishermen using deep-set buoy gear caught eight times the swordfish as the driftnet users.

Oceana Vice President for the U.S. Pacific Susan Murray said in the statement removing the “walls of death” from federal waters in long overdue. The swordfish fishery is currently the only U.S. fishery where the gear is allowed. That gear is also banned in many countries and on the high seas as well. She’s hopeful a House vote will take place in the near future.

“With proven, cleaner ways to fish - such as deep-set buoy gear - we can have a sustainable swordfish fishery that does not needlessly injure and kill other ocean animals, like the humpback whale that was entangled last year,” she said.  

Photo courtesy of Damsea/Shutterstock

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