WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), both Members of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, rolled out the bipartisan Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, which would phase out the use of large mesh drift gillnets off the coast of California and set a path toward more sustainable fishing in the region. The measure is the House companion to S.2773, which was introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). This week is Capitol Hill Ocean Week, which brings together leaders in marine policy to discuss critical issues impacting oceans and Great Lakes.
Upon introduction, Rep. Lieu said:
“The practice of drift gillnet fishing is an antiquated method of catching swordfish and sharks. Washington and Oregon already prohibit the use of large mesh drift gillnets because they are harmful to local ecosystems. It is past time to ensure that our precious marine wildlife is adequately protected by phasing out this inhumane, destructive, and wasteful practice.”
Currently, the use of gillnets with a total length of two and one-half kilometers or more is prohibited in U.S. waters. The drift gillnet fishing gear being utilized off the coast of California can be up to or more than a mile long in length, and is designed to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. However, due to its large mesh size, many marine species—including some ESA-listed species—can also become entangled in the mesh nets as a result of bycatch. Many animals are injured or killed in the process.
This bill is supported by Oceana, Pew Charitable Trusts, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Friends of the Earth, Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, American Sportfishing Association.
Support for H.R. 5638:
Turtle Island Restoration Network:
“Driftnets meant for swordfish and thresher sharks off the coast of California are actually harming and killing more than 70 different species of ocean wildlife,” said Cassie Burdyshaw, advocacy and policy director with Turtle Island Restoration Network. “H.R. 5638, introduced by Congressman Ted Lieu and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, brings us one step closer to phasing out antiquated and unsustainable driftnets.”
“Targeting swordfish with drift gillnets is an indiscriminate and highly destructive way to fish,” said Oceana’s deputy vice president of the Pacific, Susan Murray. “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.”
Humane Society Legislative Fund:
“We applaud Reps. Ted Lieu and Brian Fitzpatrick for introducing legislation to protect dolphins and whales in their natural habitats,” stated Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Each year, the fishing industry’s drift gillnets ensnare and drown countless majestic creatures. H.R. 5638 promises to reduce these horrible and indiscriminate deaths along one of the longest state coastlines in the nation.”
Pew Charitable Trusts:
“I hope that this commonsense and bipartisan bill passes, and provides the momentum needed to end the use of drift gillnets,” said Paul Shively, project director of Pacific Ocean conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “It’s the best way of preserving the viable commercial swordfishing industry without unnecessary harm to the marine wildlife that is integral to a healthy Pacific Ocean ecosystem.”
Friends of the Earth:
“The use of driftnets is wholly unsustainable and a federal ban on this method of fishing is a long time coming,” said Marcie Keever, Director of the Oceans and Vessels Program at Friends of the Earth. “These massive nets catch and kill an unforgivable amount of marine life and are so cruel that only a single California fishery currently utilizes them. With so many other types of sustainable fishing methods available, driftnets must become a thing of the past.”
American Sportfishing Association:
“The nation’s recreational fishing community is comprised of millions of individuals and thousands of businesses with a deep passion for aquatic resource conservation. As such, the American Sportfishing Association strongly supports H.R. 5638, the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, which will end the use of highly destructive large-mesh drift gillnets. In California, this gear is responsible for unacceptably high levels of bycatch, including of sportfish, sharks and marine mammals, and we commend Rep. Lieu for leading this effort to improve the health and sustainability of California’s marine resources.”