Most of us are interested in the dangers that sea life finds itself in, including dolphins, whales, and sea turtles. One of those dangers may be reduced, thanks to a vote in the U.S. Senate. It aimed to reduce the possibility that those creatures would get entangled in drift nets floating off the California coast.
The bipartisan bill was passed unanimously on Wednesday. They wanted to stop the use of mesh gillnets in federal waters, and that is the only place where that type of net is in use in the United States.
Mesh drift nets may be a mile long or longer. They are left in the water overnight to catch thresher sharks and swordfish. Unfortunately, there are other animals that also get caught in the nets, such as whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, fish, and sharks, and they end up injured or killed.
A coalition made up of concerned citizens, known as the Turtle Island Restoration Network, has been working for more than 2 decades to stop this dangerous practice. California passed a 4 phase plan in 2018 that would keep the gillnets out of state waters. The new law, known as the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, would be an extension to federal waters. Within 5 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be working along with the commercial fishing industry to find a better option.
“This legislation will ensure no more whales or dolphins fall victim,” said Annalisa Batanides Tuel, policy and advocacy manager for Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We are encouraged that the United States is taking steps to address harmful fishing methods in the ocean and off our coasts.”
One fishery in California kills up to 90% of the dolphins and porpoises on the West Coast and in Alaska. This includes a minimum of 6 endangered, protected, and threatened species.
The bill that was introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) is S. 906.
“We are now one step closer to removing these nets from our waters,” Senator Feinstein said. “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.”
The use of those nets would be phased out and the industry would be transitioned to sustainable methods. This includes using hook and buoy systems and deep-set buoy gear. Some testing shows that up to 94% of the animals caught with those methods are swordfish, helping to reduce the collateral damage to other species.
Before it is a law, it will have to pass in the House of Representatives.
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