The Beacon: admin's blog

Senator Calls for FDA Crackdown on Seafood Fraud

Yesterday, in a letter to Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) urged the agency for stricter oversight and enforcement of seafood fraud, highlighting the investigative work of Oceana, writing:

“It is unacceptable that proven fraud is occurring on such a widespread basis. Seafood fraud is not only deceptive marketing, but it can also pose serious health concerns, particularly for pregnant women seeking to limit exposure to heavy metals or individuals with serious allergies to certain types of fish.

Recent studies suggest how pervasive the problem of seafood fraud has become in the United States. Since 2011, Oceana has collected fish samples from numerous grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues in different metropolitan areas and has had them genetically tested to determine their composition. In Miami and Fort Lauderdale, 31 percent of the seafood tested by the group was found to be mislabeled. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, 55 percent of the seafood tested was mislabeled.

In the video above, Oceana’s Northeast representative Gib Brogan talks with the Boston Globe about an investigation of Massachusetts restaurants, grocery stores and fish markets. Testing by the Globe revealed that 48 percent of 183 samples were not the same species of fish as advertised. Oftentimes cheaper alternatives were swapped for higher-priced fish.

But seafood fraud is not only a pocketbook issue. It can be harmful, even deadly to consumers. Starting in 2006, 282 22-pound boxes labeled “monkfish” were imported from China to the U.S. through California and distributed to wholesalers in Illinois, California and Hawaii. In fact, the boxes were filled with pufferfish, containing the deadly neurotoxin tetrodotoxin. Pufferfish can be lethal if not prepared correctly and a woman in Chicago became severely ill from eating the mislabeled fish.

You can read Senator Boxer’s entire letter here and you can tell the FDA to crack down on seafood fraud too by signing our petition. Stay tuned!

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Hottest September Ever Recorded

©Wikimedia Commons

Well these records seem to be falling by the wayside quickly. Last month we learned that arctic summer sea ice had shrunk to its smallest extent ever. By a lot. Today we learn that this past September tied September of 2005 for the hottest on record.

One stat released by NOAA and quoted in the Reuters story, though, truly boggles the mind:

"In addition to being hottest since 1880, the month was the 36th consecutive September and 331st consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.

The last time September temperatures were below that average was 1976, and the last time any month was below that average was February 1985."

In other words, not since Marty McFly saved Hill Valley with his Delorean time machine has planet Earth experienced a month below the 20th century temperature average.

Learn more about climate change and what you can do to help.

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Happy World Food Day!

Fisheries can provide 700 million meals a day ©Oceana

If it’s October 16th then it’s World Food Day! At Oceana we recognize the importance of this day, launched in 1979 by the UN to bring light to the issue of world hunger. With the world population careening towards 9 billion by mid-century and arable land growing both more scarce and more vulnerable thanks to global warming, we believe that well-managed fisheries will be critical to feeding the world.

Right now the world’s fisheries are not nearly as productive as they could be. More than half are over-exploited and technologically advanced fishing fleets are searching far and wide for ever more remote fish stocks that have yet to be exploited. But the idea that we can perpetually decimate stock after stock is not realistic on a finite planet. We need to manage our fisheries so that they give us enough to eat year after year. The good news is there are proven ways to do this.

1) Science-based quotas. Taking so many fish out of the water that populations are unable to maintain themselves one way to ensure collapse. Basing quotas on fish biology, rather than fishing industry interests is the only way to ensure that fish stocks will survive into the future.

2) Protect Habitat. Habitat vital to fish activities like spawning and feeding should not be steamrolled by bottom trawlers or fouled by pollution.

3) Reduce bycatch. Bycatch is the incidental catch of species not targeted by fishermen. It may sound like an obscure industry topic, but bycatch makes up over 10% of the world’s catch, or more than 16 billion pounds of wasted seafood every year. Bycatch is also a killer of endangered sea turtles, sharks and marine mammals.

These are steps that have been proven to restore stocks of fish wherever they have been implemented, from Baltic cod, to Spanish anchovies; from Japanese snow crab, to Norway herring, and the list goes on. While it’s counterintuitive, by imposing limits to what we catch today we will actually be able to increase the amount of fish that we catch tomorrow. A new study published in Science showed that sensible management could increase fish yields up to 40% and increase the biomass in the oceans by a whopping 56%! If managed wisely, our fisheries could provide the world with 700 million nutritious meals every day. That will be vital on a planet where almost a billion people already go hungry every day.

This World Food Day learn more about the world’s food security and vow to help fight world hunger. At Oceana it’s one of our highest priorities.

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Florida Swordfishermen turn to Less Destructive Gear

It's rare that the issues of longline fishing and bycatch make it to the evening news, but this report from CNN highlights a promising technology called buoy gear fishing that could replace the extremely destructive practice of longline fishing for swordfish. As you might guess, traditional longlines are long--miles-long, and sometimes set with thousands of baited hooks that catch everything from swordfish (both adult and juveniles) to endangered sea turtles, marine mammals, sawfish and sharks. Swordfishing in the Florida Straits, a major nursery area for baby fish, became very popular in the late 1960s.  However, by the 1990s, swordfish populations had collapsed, with longlining banned in the area by 2011.

This video tracks Florida fisherman Tim Palmer's switch from longlines to buoy gear. Instead of thousands of hooks, Palmer sets only 12 at a time, which can be actively monitored for juvenile fish or protected species that might take the bait instead of the intended adult swordfish.  If and when fishermen notice that this has happened, they can respond more quickly and minimize the potential injury of the hooked animal.

Despite recent successes with this new gear, the movement away from destructive longline fishing is not universal or even well-accepted by all fishermen. In the Pacific, federal regulators recently approved new rules, set to take effect November 5, that will allow longline fishermen targeting swordfish and tuna to incidentally catch almost twice the number of endangered leatherbacks and loggerheads that they entangle each year.

Oceana is fighting to prevent these new rules from going into effect and is pushing for responsible fishing practices that reduce bycatch around the world.

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Ted Danson: Save the Oceans, Feed the World

In this new video actor Ted Danson talks about the founding of Oceana a decade ago and its growth in becoming the largest ocean-only conservation group in the world. Now, he says, Oceana's focus is on saving our fisheries.

As he notes, a third of fish caught worldwide are discarded, never making it to the dinner table. It's what is known in the industry as "bycatch" and it accounts for over 16 billion pounds of wasted catch each year. While the majority of the world's fisheries are overexploited, Oceana believes that through science-based quotas, habitat protection and by stemming the outrageous waste of bycatch, the oceans can continue to be a major source of the world's protein as world population approaches 9 billion people by the middle of the century.

"This is no longer about saving fish. It's about feeding the world," he says in the video.

Mr. Danson also offers some sound philosophical advice as well:

"Do not wait until ah, when I've made it I will then give back. Start behaving as if you have made it and start giving back now."

Thanks to our friends at Nautica and GQ for the video!

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Exxon Valdez Survivor, Kenai the Otter, Dies

Camera-friendly Kenai ©Shedd Aquarium

Kenai, one of the last two plucky sea otters who survived the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, died on Tuesday at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on a reef in Prince William Sound off of Alaska it unloaded 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the sensitive ecosystem, blanketing 1,300 miles of coastline in viscous sludge. The results were catastrophic. 2,800 sea otters were killed by the spill, including Kenai’s mother. But Kenai, who fit in the palm of her rescuer’s hand at the time, survived more than just an oil spill. As the Associated Press article about her notes, the animal’s longevity offered a window into otter biology:

"In her later years, she provided much information to scientists about geriatric sea otters. Kenai suffered a stroke, underwent ovarian cyst surgery and needed a root canal. She lived to age 23 1/2, while the typical life span of a sea otter is between 15 and 18 years."

That leaves 24 year-old Homer, of the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington as the lone surviving otter from the disaster.

Apart from otters, the spill killed 300 harbor seals, 900 bald eagles and 250,000 seabirds. Three species of cormorant, the common loon, the harbor seal, the harlequin duck, the pacific herring and the pigeon guillemot have still not fully recovered. But the spill had consequences for more than just Alaskan wildlife. Four humans died during cleanup efforts and the spill cost more than $300 million to Alaska’s commercial fishing industry.

While the Valdez disaster was more than 20 years ago the Deepwater Horizon spill reminds us even with all the advantages of modern 21st century technology, whether during drilling or shipping, oil spills are unavoidable. But as Kenai reminds us, if given a chance, nature is amazingly tenacious and resilient.

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European Deep-sea Fisheries at Risk

Deep-sea fisheries: Exploiting the most vulnerable species from Oceana on Vimeo.

Today the European Commission proposed new catch limits for 2013 and 2014 that will allow fishermen to exploit some little-known but important deep-sea fishes against the advice of scientists. As this video of the European deep-sea prepared by our European office demonstrates, even though light doesn’t penetrate to the ocean bottom, it's still thriving with life. It's a strange world and the animals themselves often have fittingly strange names, like the Mediterranean slimehead, greater forkbeard, and conger, to name a few.

Some species, like the roundnose grenadier, blue ling and red seabream, need special protection. Executive Director of Oceana Europe, Xavier Pastor explains why:

“Due to their biological characteristics, like low reproduction, slow growth rate and late maturity, deep sea species are highly vulnerable to overexploitation. Their management must, now more than ever, follow the precautionary approach.”

European fishermen have increasingly turned to scouring the deep-sea for fish as more traditional stocks have fallen and pirate fishermen have been able to hammer stocks of threatened deep-sea sharks through the sale of shark liver oil in the EU.

Right now Oceana’s research vessel, the Oceana Ranger, is sailing off of the picturesque Algarve section of Portugal using an underwater robot, known as an ROV, to explore and document the scarcely seen world of seamounts, deep-sea coral reefs and seafloor habitat. It’s an effort that will help scientists develop conservation proposals and better protect this vital ecosystem--one that can be obliterated in an instant by bottom trawlers. Keep up with the Ranger expedition online and check out the latest pictures and video.

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Deep-sea Sharks Illegally Caught for Liver Oil

This deepsea shark was found at a fish market in Brittany, France ©OCEANA/LX

Pirate fishermen are currently enjoying a gold rush in Europe selling the liver oil from illegally caught deep-sea sharks. Some of the world’s most notorious pirate fishing vessels have been able to exploit loopholes in weak EU laws designed to prevent the sale of illegally caught fish, but that overlook the sale of shark liver oil. As a result these poorly-understood animals are suffering.

Deep-sea sharks, which live below 300 meters, use the oil in their livers to regulate their buoyancy, but in consumer products the oil, or squalene, is used in everything from cosmetics to Omega-3 dietary supplements to industrial lubricants. Deep-sea sharks are slow-growing and slow to mature making them especially vulnerable to overfishing. That’s why Oceana is calling on the EU to close a loophole that allows this illegally caught product to come to market.

As Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe said on Thursday:

 “Vulnerable deep-sea sharks have become the new gold pursued by internationally renowned poachers – including vessels that have been linked to European interests. As long as EU rules against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing neglect this product, European borders remain wide open to illegal shark liver oil.”

In the past Oceana has successfully fought to end the use of shark liver oil in consumer products. In 2008, following pressure from Oceana, Unilever announced that it would remove shark squalene from its cosmetic brands, including Pond’s and Dove. In North America, Oceana persuaded the Vermont Country Store to stop selling an shark squalene skin enhancer unfortunately branded as “Oceana”.

Know what’s in your lip gloss or face-cream. Alternative squalene sources exist, including olive oil, rice bran, wheat germ and amaranth seeds. Before you freshen up make sure you aren’t leaving sharks out to dry and help Oceana bring an end to illegal fishing.

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Oceana Holds Seismic Airgun Protest

Protesters brave the rain ©OCEANA

Yesterday Oceana and its supporters braved foul weather to protest a truly foul idea. Armed with airhorns and megaphones they gave the Department of the Interior (DOI) a tiny preview of what is in store for the ocean’s inhabitants should the Department allow seismic airgun testing to go forward in the Atlantic Ocean.

The DOI is currently reviewing a proposal to use seismic airguns to search for pockets of oil and gas in a huge expanse of ocean from Delaware to Florida. The effects of these round-the-clock tests, which will run for days on end with dynamite-like blasts firing at 10 second intervals, will be devastating to marine mammals and fish alike.

As Oceana marine scientist Matthew Huelsenbeck said at the event:

“There is only one word that I can use that sums up this proposal: unacceptable. The levels of impacts to protected dolphins and whales, including critically endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale are simply unacceptable.”

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EU Subsidies Hurt Both Fishermen and Fish

© OCEANA / Juan Cuetos

This tragic front page report from the International Herald Tribune shows that fishing subsidies have not only devastating effects on fish, but on the fishermen who catch them as well. In boom times, EU fishing subsidies encouraged Spanish fishermen to upgrade to larger, more destructive vessels, only to find their fishing quotas drastically reduced once the fish stocks were depleted.

Many fishermen now find themselves dependent on the government subsidies which are propping up an unprofitable industry that, in the EU, is two to three times larger than what sustainable limits allow. As the article says:

“The impact has devastated much of Spain’s coastal economy. It has also generated intensifying criticism of European Union policies that, environmental groups and experts say, have increased fishing communities’ dependency on subsidies to make up for the decline in both revenues and fish populations, even as the bloc continues to pay generous subsidies to scrap older vessels to upgrade Europe’s fleet. The new boats are typically bigger and more powerful, adding pressure on declining fish populations.”

The article also references an Oceana study published last year that outlines the insanity of the European Union’s fishing subsidy policies. According to that study 13 of the 27 EU countries receive subsidies larger than the value of their catch.

A separate report in 2010, A bottom-up re-estimation of global fisheries subsidies, estimated that, worldwide, $16 billion in annual fishing subsidies directly promoted overfishing. The report stated, “The role of subsidies to the issue of overcapacity and overfishing cannot be sufficiently emphasized.”

Help Oceana fight to end these destructive and counterproductive subsidies and to restore the abundance of the oceans.

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