Fishing groups ask Congress to ban “walls of death”

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Aftco president Bill Shedd makes his case to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Aftco president Bill Shedd makes his case to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein

The American Sportfishing Association hosted a fly-in to Capitol Hill to ask members of Congress to support a bill that would ban drift gillnets.

The fly-in, which ASA government affairs vice president Mike Leonard called a success, included about a dozen recreational fishing advocates that rallied support for the “Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act.”

“Less than 20 commercial fishing vessels operating out of California still use large mesh drift gillnets in the swordfish fishery,” Leonard told Trade Only Today. “It’s one of the dirtiest fisheries in the country; most of what is caught in this gear is bycatch, including other popular sportfish, marine mammals and sea turtles.”

This bill would transition the fishery toward more sustainable gear with significantly lower bycatch rates by phasing out the use of indiscriminate mile-long drift gillnets off the California coast by 2020, said Leonard.

S. 2773 was introduced in the last Congress and passed through the Senate Commerce Committee, but the clock ran out before it made it across the finish line, Leonard said.

“Somehow it’s flown under the radar all this time,” said Leonard. “Last year, the state passed a bill similar to the federal bill that all but one state legislator ended up voting yes on. Once people learn about the bycatch in this gear, they tend to be pretty appalled.”

ASA expects the bill to be reintroduced soon.

“The group made a lot of progress on this important issue, with productive meetings with 16 different Congressional offices over a day and a half,” said Leonard. “I’m optimistic about our chances to get this legislation enacted this year.”

Yamaha’s Martin Peters and John O’Keefe said last week they would also participate in the fly-in.

“We have had multiple visits to Capitol Hill in support of efforts to limit use of drift gillnets,” said Peters. “This is one of those efforts that is beneficial for conservation, beneficial from a bipartisan perspective and has support from various user groups. It is one of those bills we should be able to find some common ground and do some good. The entire industry needs to be engaged and involved in formation of these statutes. The conservation of resources is important to all of us.” 

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