The bill would have phased out large mesh drift gillnets used to catch swordfish that are only legal in federal waters off the coast of California. The nets have been criticized due to their high percentage of bycatch including whales, dolphins and sea turtles.
WASHINGTON—President Trump on Jan. 1 vetoed a bill that would gradually eliminate the use of large-scale mesh drift gillnets in federal waters off the coast of California, the only place the nets are still used in the United States.
“By forcing the West Coast drift gillnet fishery to use alternative gear that has not been proven to be an economically viable substitute for gillnets, the Congress is effectively terminating the fishery,” the President said in a released statement. “As a result, an estimated 30 fishing vessels, all of which are operated by family-owned small businesses, will no longer be able to bring their bounty to shore.”
Trump also claimed that the bill would not have its purported conservation benefits, noting that “drift gillnet fishery is subject to robust legal and regulatory requirements for environmental protection that equal or exceed the environmental protections that apply to foreign fisheries.”
The bipartisan bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The Senate passed the bill in July 2020 and the House follow in December 2020.
“By vetoing the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, President Trump has ensured that more whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine species will be needlessly killed, even as we have a proven alternative available,” Senator Feinstein said in a released statement.
Large mesh drift gillnets are between a mile and a mile and a half long and can extend 200 feet below the ocean surface. They are left in the ocean overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. The nets have been criticized because at least 60 other marine species, including whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, fish and sharks, can also become entangled, injuring or killing them. Most of these animals, referred to as bycatch, are then discarded.
The bill would have provided fishermen assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to transition away from mesh drift gillnets and toward other methods, such as deep-set buoy gear. Deep-set buoy gear uses a hook-and-buoy system that attracts swordfish with bait and alerts fishermen immediately when a bite is detected.
“We must protect marine life from deadly drift gillnets, particularly considering there is a viable alternative ready to be deployed,” Senator Feinstein said in a released statement. “There is not enough time to override the veto so I will reintroduce this bill on the first day of the new Congress and will push for quick enactment once President Biden is in office.”