On August 29, state lawmakers in Sacramento, California overwhelmingly voted to phase out drift nets, the highly controversial fishing nets that are blamed for causing the deaths of thousands of marine mammals. The bill does not call for an outright ban on drift nets but incentivizes fisheries to move to “more sustainable gear,” for example by requiring fishermen to have an observer onboard to check the level of by-catch caught in their driftnets. (photo – Jordi Chias)
Drift Gill-nets are the notorious cause of the decimation of the Vaquita porpoises in the Gulf of Mexico, see: The Vanishing Vaquita, less than a dozen remain? And if fishermen lose or abandon a drift net it becomes “ghost gear” floating free in the ocean to ensnare and strangle marine life far into the future.
As seen on this disturbing video, filmed by famed activist and wildlife photographer Paul Nicklin of Sea Legacy, the fate of bycatch caught in “death nets” demanded action.
Bycatch Makes Up 70%+ of Drift Net Catch
Drift nets, that can be up to a mile long, are used to catch swordfish, however according to data from NOAA Fisheries less than 30% of what is actually caught in drift nets is swordfish. The rest is by-catch, meaning dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and even whales; collateral damage that is usually thrown back into the sea dead.
“A lot of what is thrown overboard alive is dying,..even if they are alive when they go in, they are often injured and it’s hard for them to survive” said Cassie Burdyshaw of the Turtle Island Restoration Network.(graphic – NOAA)
Of the 141 permits issued in 1990 to fishermen using drift nets, only about 20 fishermen continue to use the nets today. However, California fishermen still opposed the bill, claiming like Mike Flynn: “There’s very few of us left, and we don’t seem to have a chance…we’re being villainized, unjustly.”
The bill now goes before Gov. Jerry Brown who has until September 30 to sign it.
Fishing with drift nets has already been banned in Pacific waters off the coast of Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska as well as in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
Similar Bill in US Senate
Meanwhile a similar bill proposed by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (CA), Kamala Harris (CA), and Shelly Moore Capito (VA) is before the US Senate. The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act would phase out the use of these nets entirely by 2020.
Pair of dolphins caught in drift nets off California. (photo – SFGATE)
“The use of driftnets to target swordfish harms too many endangered or protected marine animals and should be phased out,” said Senator Feinstein. “It’s unacceptable that a single California fishery that uses this type of driftnet is killing more dolphins and porpoises than the rest of the West Coast combined. Our bipartisan bill will remove harmful large mesh driftnets from our oceans and encourage more sustainable fishing methods.” Read more in Pew Trust.
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