President Biden has signed legislation to ban swordfish drift gillnets in all US waters and bring California and Oregon in line with other coastal regions.
The federal Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, which will phase out the use of large-mesh drift gillnets for swordfish in US waters from 3 to 200 miles offshore, has been signed into law by President Biden. The bill won bi-partisan congressional support as part of the omnibus federal spending package passed late last year. It was sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Shelley Moore-Capito (R- WV), and House sponsors Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).
“The bill is way overdue, and the Coastal Conservation Association of California is extremely pleased to see it finally signed into law,” said Wayne Kotow, executive director of CCA CAL. “Large mesh drift gillnets are like walls of death, indiscriminate killers of marine life, ensnaring far more than just swordfish, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and more.
“That’s why these nets had previously been banned in virtually all US waters, except for California and Oregon,” Kotow added. “The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act brings the West Coast in line with the rest of the US coastal regions.”
Set overnight to capture swordfish, large-mesh drift gillnets are a mile-long and nearly invisible. More dolphins are harmed in the swordfish drift gillnet fishery than in all other West Coast and Alaska fisheries combined. Based on data from fishery observers, in the 2021-22 season, the swordfish drift gillnet fleet discarded 45 percent of its catch as non-targeted species. The fishery caught one marine mammal for every three swordfish, and discarded more than eight non-targeted fish for every swordfish landed. There also were two observed deaths of endangered humpback whales.
In that same fishing season, deep-set buoy gear—a method of catching swordfish where a single line with baited hooks is connected to a floating buoy—caught four times more swordfish without harming marine mammals or other protected species.
“Deep-set buoy gear serves as a proven way to catch swordfish without harming other animals here in California,” Kotow said. “It also results in higher quality swordfish meat, and is the future of swordfishing on the West Coast.”
Under the new bill, existing federal permits for use of large-mesh drift gillnets will be phased out over the next five years.