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Santa Monica Lawmaker's Bill Banning Giant Nets Used for Swordfishing Passes Senate


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September 4, 2018 -- A bill by Santa Monica lawmaker Ben Allen to phase out giant nets used for swordfishing that trap marine mammals, sea birds and turtles is awaiting the Governor's signature.

Approved by the State Senate last week with a 36 - 1 vote, the bill bans the mile-long drift gill nets already banned in the U.S., as well as by the United Nations, Allen's office said.

Between 2001 and 2015, the drift gillnet industry has inadvertently caught 753 dolphins, 507 seals and sea lions, 112 seabirds, 53 whales, and 35 sea turtles, Allen's office said.

Ban Drift Gillnets Illustration
Illustration courtesy PEW Charitable Trusts

All of the dolphins were killed and only a few of the whales, turtles and sea lions escaped without serious injury, Allen's staff said.

"Finally we have found a way to phase out their use and transition to a more humane alternative -- without harming the commercial fishing industry in the process," Allen said in a statement.

"This is a significant win for our ocean and for the California economy," he said.

Under the bill, the fewer than 20 fishermen with active permits to use the gear, would be compensated $100,000 for giving up their gear and $10,000 for handing in their permits.

A combination of private and public funds would be used to pay the incentives to transition "to a safer alternative, such as deep-set buoy systems," Allen's office said.

"Fishermen who choose not to participate in the buyback program will be allowed to continue to use the nets for five years, but after that, these nets will be phased out."

Most of the affected fishermen are based around Southern California and operate mostly in international waters where they capture swordfish by dragging the nylon nets attached to buoys and weights.

It is estimated California fisherman bring in $4 million in swordfish a year, with 15 to 30 percent of the catch coming from drift gill net fishing boats.

A 2016 poll commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that 86 percent of California voters supported phasing out drift gillnets.

Environmentalists quickly got behind Allen's legislation, which they say is long overdue.

"Concerned citizens have been working for more than 20 years to stop the devastating impact of this driftnet fishery on whales, dolphins and other ocean animals," said Cassie Burdyshaw, advocacy and policy director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

"Passage of this legislation will go a long way toward making the Pacific Ocean safer for ocean wildlife."


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