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Lifting ‘Curtains of Death’ at Sea

Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher’s threat to impose sanctions against Taiwan and South Korea for blatantly defying a ban on drift nets in the North Pacific is welcome and necessary. These two nations’ fishermen, by continuing to use the nets, are acting as international scofflaws.

Drift nets are used primarily to catch squid and albacore tuna.

Left out overnight, the nets of one vessel can produce a haul of thousands of pounds. Every year drift nets indiscriminately destroy millions of sea creatures. These “curtains of death,” as environmentalists appropriately call them, hang more than 60 feet and stretch for up to 40 miles.

In June, an American satellite system discovered 21 Taiwanese and 17 South Korean boats using drift nets in Pacific waters where the practice was prohibited.

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Despite international agreements against their use, drift nets kill large numbers of immature Siberian and North American salmon and steelhead trout in the North Pacific. This causes a substantial reduction in the legitimate catch of mature salmon and trout by fishermen in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

A U.N. resolution calls for a worldwide moratorium on drift-net fishing by next July. Already the U.S. secretary of commerce is required to “certify” nations that fail to abide by existing international agreements on drift-netting on the high seas.

After 60 days the President may choose to impose trade sanctions against fishery products imported from the certified nations.

Last month the Senate passed a bill that would go further.

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The legislation allows the President to choose to act immediately or wait until next June 30 to impose mandatory trade sanctions on nations that use drift nets.

Countries defying the ban would be subject to mandatory sanctions on their fish products. If violations persist, Washington could impose tariffs on consumer goods.

International pressure has already forced some countries, including China, to renounce drift nets. But for those who have not gotten the message, the House and President Bush should back up the strong action taken by the Senate.


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