United States Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill to Protect Whales, Sea Turtles from Destructive Drift Gillnet Fishing - Oceana USA

United States Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill to Protect Whales, Sea Turtles from Destructive Drift Gillnet Fishing

Press Release Date: July 23, 2020

Location: Washington, D.C.


Dustin Cranor, APR | email: dcranor@oceana.org | tel: 954.348.1314


The United Senate passed the bipartisan Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act (S. 906), which would end the destructive use of drift gillnets to catch swordfish off California and Oregon. These mile-long, nearly invisible mesh nets drift overnight to capture swordfish, but often also entangle, injure and kill whales, dolphins, sea lions, endangered sea turtles, sharks and important non-targeted fish species. 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 U.S. West Coast is the last place in the U.S. that still allows drift gillnets to catch swordfish, and drift gillnets are also prohibited in many other countries. If signed into law, S.906 would phase out the use of large-mesh drift gillnet fishing for swordfish in West Coast waters and promote the adoption of cleaner fishing gear that reduces the incidental catch of marine wildlife. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives, where sponsors are hopeful it will be considered later this year.

Oceana applauded today’s vote and released the following statement from Susan Murray, deputy vice president for the U.S. Pacific:

“It’s long past time to get these ‘Walls of Death’ out of our oceans. There are better and cleaner ways to catch swordfish that don’t kill whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals. Now is the time for us to stop using these deadly nets and convert to proven alternatives, such as deep-set buoy gear.

We applaud the leadership of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Shelly Moore Capito and the vote in the Senate, and call upon leaders in the House of Representatives to pass this legislation  and make our oceans safer for whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other animals while maintaining a sustainable fishery for swordfish.”

In a statement released earlier today, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said:

“California’s coast is one of the last places where large mesh drift gillnets are still used to catch swordfish, resulting in needless deaths of whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles and other marine animals. We are now one step closer to removing these nets from our waters. There is no reason to allow the carnage of large mesh drift gillnets when there are better, more sustainable methods to catch swordfish. We can preserve the economically important swordfishing industry while protecting the ocean and its wildlife that are vital to California’s economy.”

In that same statement, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said:

“While the use of large mesh drift gillnets is already prohibited off the coasts of most states, these tools are still injuring or killing a whole host of marine animals off California’s coast. These driftnets, which can be more than a mile long, are left in the ocean overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. However, at least 60 other marine species – including whales, dolphins, sea lions, and sea turtles – can also become entangled in these nets, injuring or killing them. With the passage of our bill, we are a step closer to helping protect our marine species by ensuring that these dangerous driftnets are no longer allowed in U.S. waters.”

In September of 2018 former California Governor Jerry Brown signed complementary state legislation into law to phase out the use of large-mesh driftnet fishing for swordfish, establishing a transition program to incentivize fishermen to switch to cleaner gear types like deep set buoy gear.

Click here for more information on drift gillnets and Oceana’s campaign work to protect whales, sea turtles and other animals.

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 www.usa.oceana.org to learn more.