Lame-Duck Veto Kills Senate Bill 906

In a move that’s sure to disappoint conservation-minded anglers, President Trump rang in the New Year by vetoing Senate Bill 906, the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, which will have banned destructive drift gillnets from the last region of the country that still allows it—the federal ocean waters off California.

“I am returning, without my approval, S. 906, the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act,” read a letter signed by Trump that accompanied the veto. “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.”

The Coastal Conservation Association of California 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.”

To help commercial fishermen replace lost income once drift gillnets are banned for good, 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, sea turtles and non-target fish species.

The Trump administration, on the other hand, remains skeptical of the economic viability of deep-set buoy gear for commercial fishing.

“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.”