Alexandria, VA – December 20, 2022 – On December 19, 2022, Congress released its end-of-year spending bill, popularly known as an omnibus, to keep the U.S. government funded through most of 2023. The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is pleased to announce that the bill includes the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, which aligns state and federal policies to modernize California’s swordfish fishery. The legislation was previously passed during the 116th Congress but was vetoed by former President Trump on January 1, 2021.

“After years of hard work and countless unexpected hurdles, it is a relief to see the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act this close to enactment,” said ASA Vice President of Government Affairs Mike Leonard. “Eliminating large mesh drift gillnets, which have been banned everywhere else in the U.S. but off the California coast, is long overdue and will provide significant benefits to west coast fisheries.”

The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act would phase out the use of large mesh drift gillnets and help commercial fishermen transition towards the use of more sustainable and economically viable gear, such as deep set buoy gear. Large mesh drift gillnets are left in the water for long periods of time, usually overnight, in hopes of catching swordfish. Unfortunately, valuable sport fish species, as well as marine mammals, sea turtles and sharks, get caught in the nets. Much of this marine life is dead and discarded.

“Transitioning this fishery to deep set buoy gear will conserve important sport fish and other marine life,” added Leonard. “Our thanks to all the bill’s sponsors and other Congressional champions for getting this included in the omnibus, particularly Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Roger Wicker, (R-Miss.), Representatives Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.).”

The bill also includes an unrelated provision to authorize a market-based mechanism allowing the transfer of Alaska halibut quota shares from the commercial fishing sector to the charter fishing sector. This provision has been championed by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and has the support of ASA as well as from much of Alaska’s fishing community.

The omnibus government funding bill is a $1.7 trillion package that funds federal agencies and includes a variety of other policy proposals and legislation previously introduced as standalone bills.  Congress must pass the omnibus by Friday, December 23, to avoid a lapse in government funding. The first vote on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday, December 20, in the U.S. Senate. ASA looks forward to watching the debate on this legislation unfold and seeing the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act ultimately signed into law.