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President Trump Vetoes Bill to Outlaw Drift Gillnets off California

Citing concerns for commercial fishing and support for fishery management processes, Trump rejects Senate Bill 906.

January 5, 2021
Swordfish off the coast
While commercial fishermen using drift gillnets target swordfish in federal waters off the California coast, non-target species such as striped marlin (shown here) are also caught and killed by these nets. Senate Bill 906 would have halted the use of these nets, but the president’s veto on New Year’s Day sank the measure. Courtesy NOAA/Richard Holt

President Donald Trump rang in the New Year by exercising his veto powers to sink Senate Bill 906, the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, which would have outlawed destructive drift gillnets from the last region of the country that still allows them—the federal ocean waters off California.

A letter signed by Trump that accompanied the veto sought to explain the reasons behind his action. “I am returning, without my approval, S. 906, the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act,” it read. “America’s fishermen have made great sacrifices to ensure that our Nation’s marine fisheries are a sustainable economic engine for coastal communities. Under my Administration, the number of United States fish stocks subject to overfishing is at a historic low.

“This achievement is the result of a transparent and collaborative regulatory process that is supported by regional fishery management councils. At council meetings, fishermen work with Federal Government and State government representatives to meet their statutory obligations under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.”

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The Coastal Conservation Association of California had helped lead the final push for congressional passage of S. 906, which was introduced more than two years ago in the upper house by senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), now vice president-elect. It was approved by the Senate in July 2020, and it passed the lower house last month.

“We are obviously deeply disappointed by this veto,” said Wayne Kotow, executive director for CCA Cal.  “We will continue our efforts to get this legislation passed and get this gear type removed from our waters.  We are not against commercial fishing and in fact understand how important it is to our supply chain and economics. What we are concerned with is a gear type that is harmful to the overall resource. We all need to fish cleaner and with less expired bycatch. We are trying to use more modern methods that have proven to fish cleaner.”

Read Next: Federal Legislation Outlawing Drift Gillnets Heads to the President’s Desk

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To help commercial fishermen replace lost income, the state of California has been actively developing an alternative method for catching swordfish with deep-set buoy gear that results in far less bycatch of marine mammals and non-target fish species. However, the Trump administration is not convinced that deep-set buoy gear is an economically viable alternative.

The lame-duck president’s letter states: “In passing S. 906, the Congress has ignored the fact that the regional fishery management process has had strong, bipartisan support since its creation. 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. 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. At a time when our nation has a seafood trade deficit of nearly $17 billion, S. 906 will exacerbate this imbalance.”

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