The California State Assembly unanimously approved a bill on Thursday that phases out the use drift gillnets in the state by January 2023.
The controversial fishing gear, which can stretch a mile long and suspend 100 feet underwater, is used by fishers to target sharks and swordfish, but the nets inadvertently entangle and kill scores of other marine animals, including endangered species.
The Assembly voted 78 to 0 on Senate Bill 1017, sponsored by state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica). It passed 36 to 1 in the Senate in June. It now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until Sept. 30 to sign it into law.
"So grateful to everyone for their hard work pulling together a strong bipartisan vote in support of protecting marine-life from unnecessary death with SB 1017," Allen tweeted Thursday.
Gillnet with white perch. NOAA / Chris Doley
Should the bill become law, it would create a buy-back program that offers up to $110,000 to fishers to give up their nets,
NBC Bay Area reported.
California fishers said the ban threatens their livelihood and the buyout amount is not enough for them to transition to another type of fishing.
"I don't know what I'd do," Mike Flynn, who has used drift gillnets to catch swordfish for the past 40 years, told the publication. "There's very few of us left, and we don't seem to have a chance ... we're being villainized, unjustly."
The news site reported that some 20 fisherman actively use the gear off the California coast, down from 141 active permits at its peak in 1990, according to NOAA.
The bill's passage comes just months after conservation group Mercy For Animals and the Ban Death Nets coalition released grisly undercover footage showing the harmful impact of driftnet fishing on marine life.
Mercy For Animals celebrated the vote and urged Gov. Brown to join other governments that have outlawed the nets. "California is the last remaining U.S. state to allow driftnets, which have already been phased out off the U.S. East Coast and banned by Oregon and Washington states, the United Nations, and countries around the world," the group stated on their website.
World Animal Protection released a report highlighting that 640,000 metric tons of fishing nets are lost or discarded in our oceans each year, trapping and killing countless marine mammals, including endangered whales, seals and turtles. Shallow coral reef habitats also suffer further degradation from the gear, which can take up to 600 years to decompose.
Earlier this week, fishermen found roughly 300 dead sea turtles off the southern Pacific coast of Mexico. The olive ridley turtles, which Mexico classifies as being at risk of extinction, were entangled in an abandoned illegal fishing net.
Mexico's office of the federal attorney for environmental protection said the turtles were found in a 393-foot long net that is not approved for fishing, according to the Associated Press.
300 #Endangered #SeaTurtles Killed in Illegal Fishing Net Off Mexico's Pacific Coast #turtles https://t.co/JbrHkAUp54— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1535616132.0
- Lawsuit Filed to Protect Whales, Sea Turtles From Drowning in Drift ... ›
- Gillnet Fishing Blamed for Killing Up to 100 Baby Hammerhead ... ›
- Gill Nets Push Species to the Brink of Extinction ›
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.