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The US Senate has passed the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, a bill introduced in March of 2019 to phase out giant nets used for swordfishing that trap marine mammals, sea birds and turtles in the federal waters off the coast of California, the only place the nets are still used in the United States.

Drift gillnets are more than a mile long and are left in the ocean overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. Other marine species including whales, dolphins, sea lions, and sea turtles can also become entangled in the large mesh nets, injuring or killing them.

“Drift gillnets are responsible for trapping and killing more than 60 different species of marine wildlife, and this legislation will ensure no more whales or dolphins fall victim to this unsustainable fishery,” said Annalisa Batanides Tuel, policy and advocacy manager for Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We are encouraged that the United States is taking steps to address harmful fishing methods in the ocean and off our coasts, as a major cause of biodiversity collapse.”

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.

“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,” Senator Ben Allen said in a statement. “This is a significant win for our ocean and for the California economy.”

Large mesh drift gillnets are already banned in the U.S. territorial waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii. However, they remain legal in federal waters off the coast of California.