Will California Finally Phase Out Killer Drift Nets for Good?

It’s all up to Gov. Jerry Brown now. With one stroke of his pen, he can rid the California coast of dangerous shark and swordfish drift nets.

California lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1017 on August 30, 2018. That bill would mandate that drift-net use in federal waters along the state’s coastline be phased out by January 2023. Now, Gov. Brown has until September 30 to sign it.

California, usually the first to move toward all things sustainable, is literally the last bastion of legal drift-net fishing left in the U.S. Drift nets, also known as gill nets, have already been phased out along the U.S. East Coast, and they’ve been banned on the West Coast by Oregon and Washington. Additionally, the United Nations and countries around the world have bans in place.

California, what took you so long?

Drift nets kill marine life without discrimination. They extend over a mile long and hang like a curtain up to 100 feet deep into the ocean. Nets that are so massive do their job well — too well. Any creature that swims or flies into it becomes entangled.

This issue gained national attention in April 2018, when animal advocacy groups Mercy for Animals, Turtle Island Restoration Network, SeaLegacy and Sharkwater released graphic video footage showing the shocking toll these nets take on sea lions, whales, dolphins, sharks, sea birds and other marine life.

The advocacy group coalition argues on its website:

Multiple undercover investigations have exposed blatant animal cruelty and widespread destruction of marine life, including sharks viciously stabbed and repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with a baseball bat, animals allowed to slowly suffocate, and seabirds and dolphins drowning after being trapped by driftnets.

Since 1990, drift nets have snagged and killed roughly 4,000 dolphins, 456 whales and 136 sea turtles, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA estimates that for every fish intentionally caught using these nets, seven other marine animals die too. These unintentional kills are known as “bycatch.”

There are reportedly only about 20 active drift-net license holders in California these days, down from 141 in 1990. If enacted, California’s law will create a transition program to phase out the use of drift nets by offering a $110,000 incentive to fishers who agree to give up their permit and nets by January 2020.

That money would assist those fishers to buy new, compliant fishing equipment. California will fund these drift-net buyouts with $1 million from the state’s Ocean Protection Council for whale and sea turtle entanglement.

shark in gill net

Photo credit: Sharkwater

The affected fishers argue that $110,000 isn’t enough money to fund the wholesale change in equipment they’ll need to be able to keep fishing.

They point to the changes the industry has had to make, along the way that have reduced the numbers of bycatch snared in their nets. For example, it’s been illegal since 2001 to use these nets along much of the California coastline for half of each year. This prohibition has helped avoid ensnaring sea turtles during their migration periods.

Fishermen have been installing high frequency noise makers or “pingers” along their nets since the 1990s to alert marine animals like dolphins and whales that they’re nearing the nets. While this innovation has helped, it’s not enough.

“For every fisherman out there, there’s another 100 people out there that depend on a healthy ocean to make a living,” National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen told NBC Bay Area after witnessing the impacts for himself. “Enough is enough. Let’s let the world weigh in on it, and let’s end this.”

Indeed, it’s time to relegate drift nets to the past. They wreak a wide swath of damage for no good reason. Let’s not ignore the plight of people still relying on these nets to survive, but let’s help them transition to more sustainable ways of making a living on the water.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

38 comments

Mark Donner
Mark Donner1 months ago

Maybe if you threaten these criminals who call themselves "fishermen" with life in prison or death by hanging they'll stop their destructive and vicious greed. And 2023 is ridiculous, phase the damn nets out today.

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Teresa A
Teresa Antela1 months ago

I do hope so!

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Judy t
Judy t1 months ago

If this horrible video in this article exposing the abuse to our marine life and the damage it causes from fish nets doesn't effect gov Brown to sign the bill then he needs to resign from his job. Protect and Preserve our marine life!

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michela c
michela c2 months ago

Thanks

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan H2 months ago

Please sign this.

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RosemaryRannes H
RosemaryRannes H2 months ago

"There are reportedly only about 20 active drift-net license holders in California these days, down from 141 in 1990. If enacted, California’s law will create a transition program to phase out the use of drift nets by offering a $110,000 incentive to fishers who agree to give up their permit and nets by January 2020.

That money would assist those fishers to buy new, compliant fishing equipment. California will fund these drift-net buyouts with $1 million from the state’s Ocean Protection Council for whale and sea turtle entanglement."

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Elisabeth T
Elisabeth T2 months ago

Will send to Gov. Brown, thanks for sharing.

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rita uljee
rita uljee2 months ago

let`s keep our fingers crossed he`ll do the right thing!

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