President Trump vetoed the bi-partisan Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act (S. 906/H.R. 9179), led by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Representatives Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) that would have ended the destructive use of large mesh drift gillnets in U.S. ocean waters and saved countless whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks as well as sportfish. These mile-long, nearly invisible nets drift overnight to catch swordfish, but often entangle, injure and kill more than 70 other species of marine life. According to federal data, more dolphins and porpoises are killed in the California drift gillnet fishery than all other observed U.S. West Coast and Alaska fisheries combined.
The federal legislation would have prohibited the use of large mesh drift gillnets in United States federal waters (out to 200 miles from shore) in five years and promoted the adoption of cleaner fishing gear that reduces the incidental catch of marine wildlife. The bill would have authorized the federal government to provide additional funding to fishermen for the transition to use cleaner fishing gear, namely deep-set buoy gear. Deep set-buoy gear uses hooks set during the daytime where they selectively catch swordfish and are actively checked by fishermen, as opposed to a large net left unattended for hours like a drift gillnet. This not only greatly reduces the risk of accidental catching and killing of wildlife but also leads to higher quality swordfish that can be worth nearly twice as much as swordfish caught in drift gillnets. Conversely, drift gillnets throw overboard more wildlife than what is kept and due to their wasteful nature, these nets are banned in many places around the world. Ocean waters off California and Oregon are the last place in the U.S. where large mesh drift gillnets are still allowed.
Oceana has campaigned for more than a decade to end the use of destructive drift gillnets, and in response to the President’s veto message released the following statement from Susan Murray, deputy vice president for the U.S. Pacific:
“President Trump’s veto of Senate Bill 906 is a vote against ocean wildlife and sustainable fishing, contradicting the will of Americans and ignoring recommendations of fishery councils to transition to cleaner ways to fish in our nation’s waters. It’s long past time to get these ‘Walls of Death’ out of our oceans, especially because there are proven alternatives like deep-set buoy gear that allow for the catching of swordfish without arbitrarily catching and killing so many other animals. The best available science, including several years of data, shows that deep-set buoy gear keeps fishermen on the water while safeguarding ocean wildlife and the fact that many drift gillnet fishermen are already voluntarily choosing to fish with deep-set buoy gear is further evidence it is an economically viable alternative. Furthermore, under Trump’s Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service has rejected and refused to implement actions recommended to them by the nation’s fishery councils to protect ocean wildlife from unnecessary harm. As such, the Senate acted appropriately in passing this legislation unanimously followed by a vote of support in the House to remove these deadly nets from our waters and transition to gear that selectively catches swordfish without killing so many other species.”
“We thank the leadership of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Shelley Moore Capito and Representatives Ted Lieu and Brian Fitzpatrick as well as so many others who helped pass this legislation through Congress. Over the years, tens of thousands of U.S. residents have called for these drift gillnets to be permanently pulled from ocean waters to protect wildlife; and sportfishermen, businesses, chefs, and state and federal officials have fervently supported such action. It’s been a long road, but we will continue to fight until America’s oceans are free of large mesh drift gillnets and much safer for wildlife.”
More information on drift gillnets and Oceana’s campaign work to protect whales, sea turtles and other animals can be found here.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one third of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 200 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that one billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit usa.oceana.org to learn more.