The driftnet fishing industry needs to go, says three U.S. senators. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) have introduced legislation in an effort to phase out the controversial fishing method just weeks after an undercover investigation found widespread cruelty in the California driftnet swordfish industry.
Banned or restricted in other popular fishing regions including the eastern U.S., driftnet fishing is still big business off the California coast and other coastal regions of the country. The first undercover investigation released two weeks ago by a coalition of animal rights organizations including Mercy for Animals, SeaLegacy, Turtle Island Restoration Network, and Sharkwater, found the fishing practice to cause “significant entanglement and mortality of living marine resources, including myriad protected species.”
The new legislation aims to end that by phasing out large mesh driftnets in all U.S. waters by 2020. The legislation would also include the establishment of programs to help fisheries transition to more sustainable fishing methods.
“Senator Feinstein’s Senate bill brings us one step closer to ending this destructive and wasteful fishery that indiscriminately kills sea life,” Cassie Burdyshaw, advocacy and policy director of MFA, said in a statement. “Both the recent federal and California legislation provide a roadmap to ending the unnecessary and cruel deaths of sea turtles, whales, sharks, sea lions and other sea life in these death nets.”
Driftnet fishing methods pose serious threats to dolphins, mako shark, sea turtles, sea lions, whales, and a number of threatened, vulnerable, and endangered animals that become entangled in the massive nets — some as long as one mile. By law, driftnet fisheries are required to report these bycatch, but MFA says there’s “no evidence” that the nation’s swordfishing industry is accurately reporting the deaths of these protected species.
“In the past decade alone, nearly 800 marine mammals have been killed by the few remaining driftnet boats off California, including endangered animals like the sperm whale,” MFA notes. “Driftnets kill more whales and dolphins than all other West Coast observed fisheries combined (including in Alaska). Based on observer estimates, driftnets killed 16 endangered whales within the past five years.”
Recent efforts to introduce more stringent legislation for the driftnet fishing industry were unsuccessful, and recently proposed changes by the Trump administration could give the industry more protection, putting more animals at risk.
“As a civilized society, it’s our moral obligation to protect all animals––including fish and other marine life––from needless cruelty,” said Lindsay Wolf, vice president of investigations for Mercy For Animals.
“We’re very encouraged by Senator Dianne Feinstein’s proposed legislation,” says Paul Nicklen, co-founder and expedition lead for SeaLegacy. “This is the kind of leadership we need to see if necessary changes to the driftnet fishery in the waters off California are going to happen. Witnessing what happens in the waters off the coast of California has been one of the most devastating experiences of my entire career. This development gives us hope for a better future.”
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