By Lorraine Chow
Silvertip Sharks (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) caught in gillnet. Jeff Rotman / Oxford Scientific / Getty Images
The California State Assembly unanimously approved a bill on Thursday that phases out the use drift gillnets in the state by January 2023.
The controversial fishing gear, which can stretch a mile long and suspend 100 feet underwater, is used by fishers to target sharks and swordfish, but the nets inadvertently entangle and kill scores of other marine animals, including endangered species.
The Assembly voted 78 to 0 on Senate Bill 1017, sponsored by state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica). It passed 36 to 1 in the Senate in June. It now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until Sept. 30 to sign it into law.
“So grateful to everyone for their hard work pulling together a strong bipartisan vote in support of protecting marine-life from unnecessary death with SB 1017,” Allen tweeted Thursday.
Gillnet with white perch. NOAA / Chris Doley
Should the bill become law, it would create a buy-back program that offers up to $110,000 to fishers to give up their nets, NBC Bay Area reported.
California fishers said the ban threatens their livelihood and the buyout amount is not enough for them to transition to another type of fishing.
“I don’t know what I’d do,” Mike Flynn, who has used drift gillnets to catch swordfish for the past 40 years, told the publication. “There’s very few of us left, and we don’t seem to have a chance … we’re being villainized, unjustly.”
The news site reported that some 20 fisherman actively use the gear off the California coast, down from 141 active permits at its peak in 1990, according to NOAA.
The bill’s passage comes just months after conservation group Mercy For Animals and the Ban Death Nets coalition released grisly undercover footage showing the harmful impact of driftnet fishing on marine life.
Mercy For Animals celebrated the vote and urged Gov. Brown to join other governments that have outlawed the nets. “California is the last remaining U.S. state to allow driftnets, which have already been phased out off the U.S. East Coast and banned by Oregon and Washington states, the United Nations, and countries around the world,” the group stated on their website.
World Animal Protection released a report highlighting that 640,000 metric tons of fishing nets are lost or discarded in our oceans each year, trapping and killing countless marine mammals, including endangered whales, seals and turtles. Shallow coral reef habitats also suffer further degradation from the gear, which can take up to 600 years to decompose.
Earlier this week, fishermen found roughly 300 dead sea turtles off the southern Pacific coast of Mexico. The olive ridley turtles, which Mexico classifies as being at risk of extinction, were entangled in an abandoned illegal fishing net.#turtlesbit.ly/2NzxXF8
Mexico’s office of the federal attorney for environmental protection said the turtles were found in a 393-foot long net that is not approved for fishing, according to the Associated Press.