As we begin the new year, I wanted to share some good news. Even in the midst of troubling signs for the future of ocean policy in the United States – including the nomination of ExxonMobil's CEO for Secretary of State – Oceana has continued winning victories for the seas. In 2016, working with our allies, we won significant, durable policy changes in the United States and around the world that will make our oceans more biodiverse and abundant.
Recent victories – United States
The latest news comes from the U.S., where President Obama announced actions late last month that will permanently protect parts of the U.S. Atlantic and Arctic from offshore oil and gas drilling. Using his authority under section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, President Obama is withdrawing 3.8 million acres in the north and mid-Atlantic Ocean from future oil and gas leasing, protecting 31 canyons that extend from Heezen Canyon off the coast of New England to Norfolk Canyon near the Chesapeake Bay. Oceana, as you know, has played a leading role in protecting the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans from offshore drilling activities.
President Obama also issued an Executive Order creating the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area in Alaska. The region is one of the most productive high latitude ocean ecosystems in the world. It provides important habitat and is a migration corridor for thousands of bowhead and beluga whales, hundreds of thousands of walruses and ice seals, and millions of migratory birds. President Obama's order recognizes the importance of the region, increases local participation in management decisions, and helps protect the region from potential impacts associated with industrial activities like shipping, industrial fishing, and oil and gas leasing. After years of cooperation, this order represents a significant victory for Oceana and our allies, including Kawerak, Inc., the Bering Sea Elders Group and the Association of Village Council Presidents, which together represent more than 70 federally recognized tribes in the region. You can learn more about this important victory and the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area here. The strong community support for this action makes it likely that this policy victory will remain in place under future administrations.
And on December 8, the Obama administration responded to the problem of seafood fraud and illegal fishing and announced a final rule implementing the Seafood Import Monitoring Program. The final rule requires imported seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud to be traced from the fishing boat or farm to the U.S. border. The end result will help stop illegally caught and mislabeled seafood from entering the United States. This rule would not have happened without Oceana's five-year campaign, which included testing seafood and pushing forward policy proposals that would stop seafood fraud by implementing a traceability system that tracks the fish you buy (and that anyone purchases) from the boat to the plate.
American consumers deserve access to all the relevant information about their seafood purchases, and we will continue to work toward full-chain traceability for all seafood sold in the United States. You can learn more here about our ongoing efforts to ensure that all seafood in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.
Recent victories – Brazil
In Brazil, Oceana successfully pushed for the reinstatement of the country's "Red List," ensuring the protection of 475 at-risk species. After 16 months of suspension, our efforts led directly to the judicial decision that reestablished the Red List. Oceana also attended the first meeting of Brazil's Tuna Fisheries Management Council. Our presence was critical in obtaining approval of important marine conservation measures, including a fishing ban for all hammerhead shark species in Brazil's longline fisheries; the mandatory use of circle hooks for longline vessels in Brazilian tuna fisheries (a move that protects sea turtles and sharks); a rejection of leases that would have allowed Chinese fishing vessels and new purse seiners; and a formal commitment from the government to develop a management plan for tuna fisheries within six months.
Other victories – 2016
These recent victories are capstones on a successful year. In 2016, Oceana and our allies have been responsible for significant policy changes around the world, including:
- Establishment by ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas - the intergovernmental body that manages fishing of migratory species like tuna and swordfish) of the first management plan for swordfish
- Peru's decision to protect sharks from finning at sea
- Chile's decision to ban salmon farming in Tortel (a critical and pristine area in Patagonia)
- Canada's decision to adopt transparency in decision making and to reveal to its citizens the scientific status of its 159 commercial fish species
- Brazil's collection, for the first time since 2008, of basic fishery landing data on 40 percent of its catch
- Spain's criminal prosecution of the Vidals, an infamous illegal fishing family
- The EU closure of 4.9 million square kilometers to bottom trawling in the North East Atlantic
- The U.S. creation of the first Marine National Monument in the U.S. Atlantic
Despite the challenges we face now and the difficulties that may lie ahead, Oceana is an organization built to campaign – and win – policy changes that make tangible progress in restoring our oceans. We have succeeded in challenging political climates for more than a decade, both in the U.S. and around the world. And our model has served us well: working with partners and allies, we have won more than 100 victories since our founding in 2001.
These accomplishments are a well-timed reminder that – with your help – we can continue to win campaigns that will help save the oceans and feed the world.