Daily Breeze: South Bay lawmaker will introduce bill to phase out controversial drift gill nets


Drift gill nets, fiercely contested fishing gear used to snag swordfish and thresher sharks in deep waters off Southern California, would be largely banned under legislation authored by a South Bay state lawmaker.

Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat whose district includes much of the Los Angeles County coastline, is drafting the final language of a bill that would halt state permits for drift gill nets and create a new state permitting system for alternative swordfish-catching gear that California fishery managers and researchers still are testing for commercial use.

Senate Bill 1114 would allow about 20 permitted fishers to continue using the nets but otherwise would grant new commercial swordfish-hunting permits only for deep-set buoy gear. Allen expects to release the bill’s final language Monday and introduce it to a Senate committee in April.

“We’re directing the Department of Fish and Wildlife to issue permits for the new gear, and to do it in a way that incentivizes it (for fishers),” Allen said. “The use of drift gill nets is harming a whole set of important sea life populations. We are the last state on the West Coast that still allows the use of these gill nets.”

Assembly Bill 2019, introduced in February 2014, similarly sought to ban drift gill net fishing but died in committee hearings.

Allen’s bill, if passed, would circumvent long-standing collaborative research among fishers, scientists and government regulators to more quickly phase out drift gill nets.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages West Coast fisheries, is in the process of analyzing the best way to introduce deep-set buoy gear permitting, said council officer Kit Dahl.

Dahl said the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research in Oceanside has essentially developed its own gear design for the West Coast, tested it and has been working with commercial fishermen to land swordfish with it.

“The next step is to actually make it legal gear,” Dahl said. “We’re just at the stage of raising these questions and issues.”

Unlike drift gill nets, which capture unintended species in wide underwater mesh traps that remain in place for long periods, deep-set buoy gear is a long line with hooks that can be used to seek out a single species. Pfleger has been testing the new technology with fishers for years and, thus far, has successfully caught an average of 1.3 swordfish per eight-hour fishing trip, according to a PIER progress report issued earlier this month.

The company is now researching ways to increase the catch and otherwise improve the gear, which is conveniently connected to a buoy float that rises to the surface when a fish takes the bait. A flashing strobe also is attached to the line at the surface to prevent losing the gear.

But the scientific and regulatory approach by fishery managers is simply taking too long for environmentalists eager to get rid of the nets.

Ocean and marine life activists, including Oceana and SB 1114’s sponsor, Turtle Island Restoration Network, have for years sought a ban on Southern California fishers’ use of drift gill nets.

“The California drift gill net fishery for swordfish and shark is the most dangerous fishery for whales and other marine mammals along the U.S. West Coast from California to Alaska,” Turtle Island Restoration Network says on its website. “The 12 to 25 vessels operating in the drift gill net fishery accidentally capture and kill more whales and marine mammals than any other fishery along the U.S. West Coast. ... Nets that stretch a mile are set to ‘soak’ overnight, and catch and drown marine animals indiscriminately.”

Read more here: http://www.dailybreeze.com/environment-and-nature/20160323/south-bay-la…