US senators seek end to driftnet fishing

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators filed a bill last week that would ban what conservation groups call a controversial and cruel method of fishing.

The legislation would phase out large mesh driftnets within two years and calls on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to devise a program that would create a more sustainable fishery. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both D-California, comes on the heels of a proposal in the California state legislature that would buy back driftnet permits.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) is also a sponsor.

Driftnets, which are no longer in use in other parts of the world, are mile-long nets set out overnight to catch swordfish. However, conservation groups claim the nets also ensnare other marine wildlife, such as dolphins, sharks, and turtles.

“The use of driftnets to target swordfish harms too many endangered or protected marine animals and should be phased out,” Feinstein said. “It’s unacceptable that a single California fishery that uses this type of driftnet is killing more dolphins and porpoises than the rest of the West Coast combined. Our bipartisan bill will remove harmful large mesh driftnets from our oceans and encourage more sustainable fishing methods.”

Conservation groups hailed the bill and encouraged its passage.

“This is the kind of leadership we need to see if necessary changes to the driftnet fishery in the waters off California are going to happen,” said Paul Nicklen, co-founder and expedition lead for SeaLegacy. “Witnessing what happens in the waters off the coast of California has been one of the most devastating experiences of my entire career. This development gives us hope for a better future.”

Last year, international nonprofit organization Oceana sued the federal government after the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it would not move forward with a driftnet plan it considered for California and Oregon that set bycatch limits. According to NOAA, California has issued 73 permits for driftnet fishing. However, on average, only 20 boats have used the method in recent years.

“Targeting swordfish with drift gillnets is an indiscriminate and highly destructive way to fish,” said Susan Murray, the deputy vice president of the Pacific for Oceana, in a statement released in wake of the bill. “This fishery tosses overboard more marine life than it keeps. With cleaner, more selective fishing gears available, there is no reason to continue using antiquated methods that inflict unnecessary harm to ocean wildlife.”

Photo courtesy of The Terramar Project


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