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President Vetoes Bill to Ban Fishing Gear Harmful to Dolphins, Other Sealife


Tuesday, January 5, 2021   

MONTEREY, Calif. -- Groups that fight for healthier oceans are vowing to fight on after President Donald Trump vetoed a bill to ban an outdated type of fishing net that targets swordfish but ends up killing many other species.

The bipartisan Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act would have ended the use of mile-long large-mesh drift gillnets within five years. Ben Enticknap, Pacific campaign manager and senior scientist at Oceana, said the enormous nets are nearly invisible and produce a huge unintended bycatch.

"The coast of California is a migratory hotspot for whales, turtles and dolphins. They can't see these walls of death and ultimately suffocate and drown," Enticknap said.

The bill would have helped fund the transition to a safer, more sustainable type of gear called deep-set buoy gear, which is used during the day and monitored, instead of being left unattended at night like the gillnets.

In a signing statement, Trump said the ban would hurt the two dozen or so fishing crews that catch swordfish off the California coast.

Gillnets already are illegal off the East Coast and the state of Washington. Enticknap said a federal ban is needed because some fishing captains still don't want to switch to the new gear, even though the state of California is offering to pay them to do so.

"California has a voluntary transition program where fishermen can turn in their nets and permits in exchange for money to help them buy new deep-set buoy gear and keep fishing," he said.

Enticknap added sustainably caught fish can garner higher market prices. The California swordfish catch is relatively small, bringing in about $1 million per year.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she plans to reintroduce the legislation in the next session.

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