Sportfishing industry supports legislation to phase out destructive drift gillnets

Yesterday, Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) introduced the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, which would bring California’s swordfish fishery into the 21st century by phasing out the use of mile long drift gillnets that contribute to significant bycatch waste.

Despite 30 years of management measures aimed at reducing bycatch, the swordfish drift gillnet fishery remains one of the nation’s most destructive fisheries. Recent data indicate that overall only 40 percent of the catch is kept using this method. The remaining catch, which includes sportfish, and other marine life, is returned to the ocean, much of which is already dead.

“These reforms are long overdue, and we are grateful to Sens. Feinstein and Capito for their leadership,” said Danielle Cloutier, Pacific Fisheries Policy director for the American Sportfishing Association (ASA). “Drift gillnets are banned in all other areas of the U.S. and significant improvements have also been made internationally to end this type of fishing gear. The legislation sets up a transition program to phase out the use of drift gillnets and offers incentives to those who voluntarily give up their permits.”

Last year, the California state legislature moved to address this fishery and make similar changes to how the fishery operates. Federal action is needed to close the loop on this wasteful fishing method because the fishery is jointly managed by both federal and state agencies.

Both the state and federal legislation will help the commercial sector switch to more sustainable gear, such as deep-set buoy gear. Sens. Feinstein and Capito join a growing chorus of leaders who support lasting reforms that will conserve marine fisheries and wildlife while still allowing commercial access to the fishery.

The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act now goes to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for consideration.

“Last Congress, a similar bill sponsored by Sens. Feinstein and Capito was unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce Committee,” said Cloutier. “Given some improvements to the legislation, ASA believes there is strong potential that the bill will be enacted this Congress.”