December 14, 2020

Bill to End Wasteful Fishing Practice, Boost Alaska Halibut Angling Opportunities Heads to President

On December 10, the U.S. House of Representatives advanced the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act (S. 906) to the President’s desk. Once signed, the new law will phase out the use of indiscriminate and wasteful large-mesh drift gillnets off the coast of California, while also helping the Alaska halibut sportfishing fleet to secure additional fishing opportunities for anglers in The Last Frontier state.

Introduced by Sen. Feinstein and Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (WV) in the Senate as a companion bill to H.R. 1979 in the House, S. 906 will phase out the use of large-mesh drift gill nets in the swordfish fishery off the coast of California over a five-year period. Drift gillnets catch fish by entangling their fins in the mesh as they try to swim through the net. However, they also entangle marine mammals and sea turtles. Other, more targeted gear, such as deep-set buoy gear, are more effective at specifically targeting swordfish and other commercially harvested species without the excessive bycatch and dead discards that result from the gillnet fishery. The new federal law will complement a California state law passed in 2018 set to revoke state permits for the use of drift gillnets in 2024 and provides fishermen with financial assistance to switch to cleaner fishing gears.

Before passing the Senate, S. 906 was amended to include an unrelated provision that will benefit Alaska’s halibut charter fishery. The Recreational Quota Entity (RQE) program authorizes a market-based mechanism to transfer Alaska halibut quota shares from the commercial fishing sector to the charter fishing sector. This provision of the S. 906 is the last step in setting up this program to provide Alaska’s sportfishing fleet with additional access and fishing opportunities for charter boat anglers.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation has been an active supporter of the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act throughout the bill’s progress in Congress.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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