Jerry Brown Signs Ban On Drift Gillnets, Likely Increasing State’s Dependence On Imported Fish

Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator

California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that bans drift gillnet fishing, legislation that commercial fisherman argue will make the state more dependent on foreign, less regulated fishing.

Brown signed SB 1017 into law Thursday, which phases out the use of large mesh driftnet fishing. Under the law, gillnets will be eradicated by January 2023. Commercial fishermen, many of whom are dependent on the practice, will be offered a buyout option of up to $110,000 if they agree to give up their nets by January 2020.

Drift gillnets, mile-long nets used by commercial fishermen, have long been criticized by conservation activists as harmful to marine wildlife. The controversial nets have caught and killed 136 sea turtles, 456 whales and 4,000 dolphins in the past three decades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization.

Oceana, an international ocean conservation organization, were one of many who celebrated the governor’s signature.

“We applaud the legislature and Governor Brown for their leadership in bringing this harmful and outdated fishing practice to an end,” Susan Murray, deputy vice president for Oceana, said in a statement. “This is literally an enormous net benefit for endangered whales, sea turtles and other marine life, as well as to responsible fishermen, coastal communities and seafood consumers.”

However, many in California’s fishing industry say the new law will not only ruin their livelihoods, but also result in increased purchases of fish from foreign markets that have fewer fishing laws.

“I don’t know what I’d do,” Mike Flynn — who has depended on drift gillnets to capture swordfish for 40 years — stated to NBC Bay Area when the bill was being debated in the California state legislature. “There’s very few of us left, and we don’t seem to have a chance … we’re being villainized, unjustly.” (RELATED: California Votes To Make Itself More Reliant On Imported Fish)

Flynn went on to describe how the bill will actually make conditions worse for marine wildlife as consumers look elsewhere for fish.

“It’ll be supplied by foreign fleets that have little to no regulations,” he explained. “If we ended up being put out of business, there will still be the demand, but the supply will be just coming from foreign countries that are not going to be abiding by the regulations that we abide by currently.”

A number of rules and regulations in California are already in place to protect at-risk fish while also allowing fisherman to conduct their work.

Large portions of the state’s coast prohibit the use of drift nets for six months out of the year to protect migrating sea turtles — which haven’t been accidentally caught in six years. Furthermore, fishermen must use devices that emit high frequency sounds to scare off whales and dolphins.

The use of drift nets have declined dramatically — without a ban even in place. Around 141 permits were active in 1990. That number has fallen to about 20.

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