The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

Celebrities speak out on something other than Proactiv

New England fishermen, frustrated by how hard it is to catch a boatful off the once-abundant New England coast, are pointing fingers at those clearly responsible for dwindling fish populations: A-list celebrities. According to one source quoted in the article published Monday in South Coast Today, "I don't think they're [that's the celebrities] cognizant of the harm that they're actually causing." Hollywood's got some nerve.

The article focuses on Oceana, as well as the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and cites our opposition to provisions that Rep. Frank proposed as part of the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) that would weaken the government's ability to rebuild threatened fish populations. The new MSA, which passed a few weeks ago, enables local administrators to set more scientifically appropriate catch limits and targets to start rebuilding the long list of collapsed or nearly collapsed fish species in New England and around the country.

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Magnuson Stevens Act misses the boat

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the 109th Congress had the opportunity to leave the session as ocean heroes. Instead, they passed a bill with mostly incremental changes to the existing law that governs America's fisheries. The re-authorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act seems to focus more on who gets to catch the fish in the ocean and not about how we can make sure that there will always be enough fish to catch and eat.

The bill weakens the role of the public in managing its marine resources by raising barriers to access to data. It also advances policies to privatize our fisheries without mandating conservation standards to protect the public's interest in maintaining healthy oceans.

Two recent commissions and the scientific community agree--our oceans are in danger and we don't have much time to save them. Just weeks ago, this report predicted the collapse of all our fisheries by 2048.

There are a few bright spots in the legislation including its call for research and protection of deep-sea corals and sponges from destructive fishing gear. It just so happens, we played a significant role in the inclusion of this language. Other improvements over current law include provisions to address overfishing, greater responsibility for scientists in setting catch limits and a new emphasis on international issues.

Here's to hoping that the 110th Congress can manage our oceans as ecosystems and not just for money fish.

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Think sustainable over organic

Pop quiz - what do these three things have in common: the Easter bunny, low-fat Funions and organic seafood? Answer: they don't exist.

The first two may not come as much of a surprise, but a debate is currently raging over the third. As the New York Times recently reported, the Agriculture Department is deciding what constitutes organic fish and is irking quite a few stakeholders in the process.

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Happy Feet: Not a true story

Warning: If you don't want to know the ending to Happy Feet, read no further.

On its opening weekend, the tap-dancing penguin raked in $42.3 million, topping the debut of the much anticipated Bond flick: Casino Royale. If you thought your eight dollars would buy an hour and a half of a warm and fuzzy penguin love story set to music, you'll be surprised by the realistic and serious tone of the film (as well as the penguins with the Mexican accents...).

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Everybody Loves Albertsons

For the past two years we've been working with supermarkets around the country to get them to post FDA warnings about mercury in seafood.

The FDA warns women of childbearing age (including pregnant and nursing women) and young children to avoid eating any swordfish, tilefish, shark, or king mackerel, and to limit their consumption of albacore tuna and tuna steaks. One store we've focused on, along with Women's Voices for the Earth in Missoula, is Albertsons.

Today, I'm happy to report that Albertsons and its subsidiaries Acme, Jewel-Osco, Shaw's, and Star Market will be posting that much-needed advice at their seafood counters.

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`Tis the season to be healthy!

It's hard to believe that the holiday season is already upon us. Despite the mall stampedes, fruitcake overload, never-ending traffic jams and hideous reindeer sweaters, I'm looking forward to spending the holiday's with my family. I can almost taste my mother's mince pie and am ready to play backyard soccer and touch football with my daughters and my nieces and nephews.

As you know, this is also a time to give back to those less fortunate. One popular way to do your part is by donating to canned food drives put on by organizations like Food and Friends and Second Harvest Food Bank . There's just one catch: if you plan to donate fish this year, consider donating canned wild salmon, instead of tuna. Salmon is not only lower in mercury but it is also higher in omega-3 fatty acids, so it's a healthier choice for mothers and children who may receive your donation. To learn more about canned tuna v. canned wild salmon go here.

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Miami Vice

In September 2005, U.S. prosecutors brought criminal charges against Antonio Vidal Pego and the Uruguayan company, Fadilur, for trying to bring Chilean sea bass into Miami without the proper documentation. Although this case may have lacked the pizzazz necessary to inspire a Law & Order episode, it was, in fact, a very big deal. This indictment was the first ever for the illegal importation and sale of Chilean sea bass and yesterday was another groundbreaker, with the first ever guilty pleas for pirate fishing (coming from Vidal and Fadilur).

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The great (white) debate

A few days ago, I came across this blog, by Doctor Mark Hyman touting the medicinal properties of food. During his recent trip to China, the doctor was "treated" to the "delicacy" shark fin soup which he claims can help ease arthritis and possible fight cancer. Oceana responded to his blog, pointing out that shark fin soup can actually be detrimental to one's health, but I thought many of you would appreciate hearing the full story, as shark finning has been popping up in the news lately.

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15,023 days remain to save our oceans

For those of you that would rather get a root canal the read "Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services," consider this your Cliff's Notes.

This new report appearing in Science yesterday, shows that marine biodiversity loss is increasingly impairing the ocean's ability to provide food, maintain water quality and recover from perturbations. If these trends continue, they estimate that pretty much all the fish will be gone by 2048. In fact, according to the report, a whopping 30% of the world's commercial fisheries are already collapsed.

I'm not the only one that thinks this is a big deal. So does the BBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

But this story could still have a happy ending. The authors make it clear that we have time (but not a lot!) to change course and avoid an irreversible collapse. Their prescription is straightforward--we need to fish less and more carefully. We need to protect the habitat species on the ocean floor from destructive fishing methods like bottom trawls. We also need to make sure that fishermen fish more cleanly, so they don't kill and discard species that they don't want to catch. And we really need to stop paying fishermen to chase down the last fish.

Someone should really advocate for this stuff.

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Don't Let Turtles Go the Way of the Pink Flamingo

The sad news out of Florida is that the iconic pink plastic flamingo, resident of many Florida front lawns since the 1950s, is about to become extinct.

The last flamingo was produced in June, and the parent company is going out of business TODAY -- a mere 7 months before the icons were to celebrate their 50th birthday.

Only days before the flamingo announcement was made, Oceana released a report entitled Net Casualties, showing that the federal government authorizes commercial fishing operations to kill nearly 10,000 sea turtles and harm another 334,000 each year. Net Casualties based its findings on the government's own documents and data, and is the first time that anyone has tallied the number of sea turtles killed by commercial fishing operations each year.

Sea turtles are among the earth's oldest living creatures. They have been swimming the oceans since before the dinosaurs roamed the earth, more than 110 million years ago. While there may be no hope for the famous flamingos, it's not too late to do something for the sea turtles.

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