Aquaculture North America

U.S. bill to slow use of gillnets becomes law

March 22, 2023
By Julia Hollister

Photo:Scott Steindorf/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

A bipartisan bill to phase out the use of harmful, large mesh drift gillnets in federal waters, has been signed into law.

The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) was included in the fiscal year 2023 omnibus government funding bill.

Large mesh drift gillnets, which are between a mile and a mile-and-a-half long and can extend 200 feet below the ocean surface, are left in the ocean overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. However, at least 60 other marine species, including whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, fish and sharks, are also regularly entangled in the large mesh net “walls,” injuring or killing them. 

Most of these animals, referred to as bycatch, are then discarded.


The use of large mesh drift gillnets by a single fishery based in California is responsible for 90 per cent of the dolphins and porpoises killed along the West Coast and Alaska.

In 2018, California passed a four-year phase-out of large mesh drift gillnets in state waters to protect marine life. A majority of the driftnet fishermen have voluntarily participated in that phaseout. The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act would extend similar protections to federal waters within five years and authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help the commercial fishing industry transition to more sustainable gear types, including a grant program to supplement state funds.

“I’m excited that our bill to phase out harmful drift gillnets was included in the omnibus government funding bill and is poised to become law,”  Feinstein said. “Large mesh drift gillnets kill indiscriminately, leaving a trail of dead or injured marine life behind. We must be better stewards of our oceans and fisheries.” 

Federal waters off the coast of California are one of the last places these deadly nets are still being used. The bill would finally remove them while helping the sword fishing industry transition to more sustainable and profitable alternatives.

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