Victory! CA Governor Signs Bill to Phase Out Cruel Fishing “Driftnets”

Only a few months after Mercy For Animals’ undercover video footage showed dolphins, sea lions, and countless other marine animals drowned in California swordfish driftnets, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate bill 1017 into law on Thursday to phase out the use of these cruel nets in the state. The bill passed nearly unanimously in the state senate and assembly, and the new law will phase out the driftnets over a four-year period.

This is great news for both animals and our environment. For every swordfish caught by California’s driftnet fishery, an estimated seven other marine animals are entangled and killed. In fact, in the U.S. alone, each year about 20 percent of the billions of marine animals caught by the fishing industry are considered “bycatch”—animals unintentionally caught and usually tossed back into the ocean often dead or too injured to survive.

Surprisingly, California was the last U.S. state to allow driftnets, which have already been phased out off the U.S. East Coast and by Oregon and Washington states, the United Nations, and countries around the world—but MFA was determined California would not remain a holdout.


In April 2018, we put the pressure on lawmakers to pass this bill by partnering with advocacy organizations Turtle Island Restoration Network, SeaLegacy, and Sharkwater to expose the reality of driftnets: Our undercover investigations revealed sharks and stingrays cut apart while still alive; dolphins, sea lions, and seabirds trapped and killed in driftnets; fish slowly suffocating in nets; and sharks still alive and gasping as their tails and fins were hacked off. The organizations called on California state lawmakers to pass Senate bill 1017—and now, that bill is law.

While the end of driftnets couldn’t come soon enough for the animals, we are glad that California will finally phase out this cruelty. “We applaud Governor Brown for taking action against California’s driftnet fishery, in which countless dolphins, stingrays, sharks, and other sea animals are brutally entangled and slaughtered,” said Lindsay Wolf, vice president of investigations at MFA. “We also thank Senator Allen and the California state legislature for swiftly passing this legislation to ban cruel and destructive driftnets.”

MFA and other organizations are also encouraging federal lawmakers to support Senate bill 2773 and House bill 5638, introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, and Shelley Moore Capito, to ban driftnets in federal waters. If you live in the U.S., take action today by signing your support for this bill.

Of course, our work is hardly done. While this is a step in the right direction, MFA is fighting for the end of cruel commercial fishing altogether. After all, the treatment of fish who are intentionally caught is even worse than that of fish caught as “bycatch.” Most fish are killed by asphyxiation, which takes anywhere from 55 to 250 minutes, while others are gutted alive and take 25 to 65 minutes to die. This is despite scientific consensus that just like mammals and birds, fish feel pain.

Of course, the best way to prevent this cruelty to the ocean’s many animals is to leave them off your plate altogether. You can find savory meal ideas, recipes, and tips on making the switch to a vegan diet in our FREE Vegetarian Starter Guide.