California Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Bill to End Use of Drift Gillnets

Congress should take similar action to protect marine life

California Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Bill to End Use of Drift Gillnets
Many marine species, including the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle, can become entangled in large-mesh drift gillnets used to catch swordfish off the coast of California. But a new law will transition the state’s fishermen away from this harmful gear.
Ricardo Tapilatu National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Governor Jerry Brown today signed legislation aimed at ending the controversial use of large-mesh drift gillnets to catch swordfish off the West Coast.

Brown’s decision is an important victory for dolphins, sea turtles, and other marine wildlife that have been injured and killed by these destructive nets for decades and reflects the overwhelming bipartisan support in the state for transitioning fishermen to more selective gear.

Congress should take note of California’s action and pass similar legislation. The U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved S. 2773 earlier this month and a companion bill is ready for consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives.

People in California and across the country want a lasting solution to the drift gillnet problem. Eighty-six percent of California voters say fishermen should use less destructive fishing methods, according to a poll commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts. And over the past four years, hundreds of thousands of Americans have called on federal and state policymakers to act, in part because on average more than half of marine life caught by drift gillnets is discarded.

The California Legislature heard these voices. Senate Bill 1017 passed the State Assembly unanimously and the State Senate by a vote of 36-1 before being sent to the governor’s desk. The measure establishes a public-private funding partnership to help fishermen transition to more selective methods such as deep-set buoy gear. And that shift should not be a daunting task because on average, fewer than 20 drift gill net boats are active off the coast of California each year.

Gov. Brown deserves thanks for signing this important legislation. Join us in telling Congress to take similar action.

Paul Shively directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ work on ocean conservation in the Pacific.

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West Coast residents take pride in managing natural resources sustainably. However, many would be surprised to learn that off the California coast, thousands of animals are unnecessarily entangled and killed by an indiscriminate form of fishing gear targeting swordfish and thresher sharks.