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Assemblymember Fong Introduces Ban on California’s Drift Gillnets

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PHOTOS: Photos of marine life injured and killed in California’s drift gillnets can be seen here. The vast majority of these images are publically released for the first time by Oceana, who recently obtained them via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). These disturbing images of maimed and dead ocean wildlife—including endangered species—clearly illustrate the need for California to join the rest of the West Coast and many other regions across the globe in replacing drift gillnets with cleaner fishing gear.

(Sacramento, CA)- Assemblymember Paul Fong (D-San Jose) introduced Assembly Bill 2019 today to end the indiscriminate capture and killing of marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, and sharks, in mile-long drift gillnets off California's coast. Assemblymember Marc Levine (D – San Rafael) is a joint author of the legislation, and Assembly Mark Stone (D – Monterey Bay) is a principal co-author.

“California has been a national leader in environmental and conservation efforts,” said Assemblymember Fong. “The fact that California still permits the use of these deadly drift gillnets while states on the Western Coast has banned the use is shameful. AB 2019 will help save the nearly 70 percent of the unintended marine wildlife that are caught and then discarded.”

Drift gillnets, used to target swordfish and thresher sharks off California's coast, form dangerous underwater walls of death that entangle more than 100 marine mammals every year as well as thousands of sharks and many other ecologically, economically and endangered species. The animals entangled in these nets are critically injured and unable to surface for air that eventually drown and die.  This cruel and inhumane practice must end.  With better fishing gear available and historic lows in fishery participation, AB 2019 seeks to protect our marine life by eliminating the use of drift gillnets.

“It is time California banned the use of gillnets,” said Assemblymember Levine. “This barbaric fishing practice is unacceptable and causes catastrophic harm to marine life.”

“Drift gillnets result in major amounts of wildlife bycatch. It’s past time that the practice be banned in California waters,” said Assemblymember Stone.

“The use of drift gillnets off California is a failed 30-year experiment that must come to an end,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California Program Director for Oceana. “It‘s time for California to remove these destructive nets that result in the senseless and cruel taking and killing of over 100 marine mammals every year and shift California’s efforts toward sustainable solutions.”

Drift gillnets have already been phased out in Washington and Oregon, and have been banned on the Mediterranean Sea and across the international high seas. According to NOAA observer data, from May 2007 to January 2012, the drift gillnet fishery discarded 67% of all marine animals it caught. In 2011, for every five swordfish landed one marine mammal was killed and six fish—including sharks and tunas—were tossed overboard, clearly dead or dying. On average only 15.6% of the fishery has been observed over the last five years, levels insufficient to manage the fishery effectively, and insufficient for accurately accounting for the take of rare species.

"The driftnet fishery for swordfish is California's deadliest catch," said Teri Shore, Program Director at Turtle Island Restoration Network. "The driftnet fishery kills more marine mammals than any other along the West Coast. It's time to end use of driftnet gear."

In 2013, NMFS instituted emergency regulations in response to the fishery seriously injuring and killing an estimated 16 endangered sperm whales in 2010, however these rules expired January 31, 2014.  The bill introduced today would finally resolve all of the many bycatch problems associated with this gear type, from endangered whales and sea turtles to the thousands of sharks and other fish species needlessly caught and killed.

Assemblymember Fong serves as Chair of the Elections and Redistricting Committee and is a member of the Higher Education, Utilities and Commerce, Water, Parks, and Wildlife, and Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy Committees.  Assemblymember Fong serves as Chair of the Select Committees on High Technology.  He represents Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, and the areas of Willow Glen, Cambrian, and Almaden Valley of San Jose.

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