The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

CEO Note: Oceana Victory -- Decision on Atlantic Seismic Testing is Delayed

If permitted, seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic could injure or kill some of the last North Atlantic right whales remaining on earth. l Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

It’s not often that a government delay is cause for celebration, but this time the oceans caught a break. After campaigning by Oceana and our allies, the Department of the Interior decided to postpone their decision on whether to allow seismic airgun use off the Atlantic coast until next March. 

This is the third time Oceana has successfully delayed the decision, allowing us the chance to build opposition and to urge more lawmakers to protect marine mammals by opposing testing. It also gives the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration time to update its outdated standards for the level of noise that is harmful to sea life.


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Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless Discusses His New Book, The Perfect Protein

Nine billion of us are estimated to be on the planet by 2050, and the demand for food will increase by 70 percent above today’s levels. If land and fresh water are already under strain, how in the world are we going to feed a population that grows by 220,000 mouths every day? Well, the ocean conservation measures you champion as an Oceana supporter can, believe it or not, help make a huge difference. You can find out how in my new book, The Perfect Protein, which can be pre-ordered now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Indiebound.


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CEO Note: Maryland Takes the Lead

Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless

If you’re a Marylander like me, this is a time to be proud. The Old Line State has stepped forward, making ocean conservation a priority and providing an example that other states would be wise to follow.

First, Maryland became a leader in developing offshore wind energy by passing The Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, which was signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley this week. The measure will help spur the development of at least 200 megawatts of renewable energy off Maryland’s coast – enough to power about 200,000 homes.

While wind turbines already dot Europe’s coast, the United States has yet to construct a single offshore wind farm. Maryland’s legislation marks an important milestone on this country’s path to a clean ocean energy future.

This victory was made possible by the tireless advocacy of Oceana and a diverse coalition of environmental, faith, business and community groups, all of which recognized the need to transition to this clean and abundant form of energy, and away from fossil fuels. Special thanks to Chesapeake Climate Action Network, National Wildlife Federation, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Maryland Sierra Club and Environment Maryland for helping to pressure lawmakers to take this first step towards a greener energy portfolio for the state.

Second, both the Maryland House and Senate passed a bill to prohibit the sale and trade of shark fins. Pending the signature of the Governor, Maryland will become the first state on the East Coast to adopt such a ban. Approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year, primarily to support the demand for shark fin soup. While shark finning is banned in the U.S, this brutal practice—which involves slicing the fins off a live shark and then dumping it back in the water where it is left to die—is still occurring around the world.  By stopping the shark fin trade in state, Maryland can help protect sharks worldwide.

So congratulations Maryland, but remember, there’s a lot of work still left to do to protect our oceans. As for the rest of the states, what are you waiting for?


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CEO Note: Shell Retreats on Arctic Drilling

Arctic waters off-limits for Shell. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I have some terrific news to report: Shell announced yesterday that it will suspend attempts to drill for oil in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. 

This announcement comes as a huge relief after Shell’s dangerous string of mishaps in the Arctic in the past year. In late December, the company’s drill rig, the Kulluk, broke away from its tow vessel in rough seas, and ran aground on New Year’s Eve off of Kodiak Island in an area that is home to endangered Steller sea lions, threatened southwest sea otters, and salmon. 

Fortunately, the Coast Guard was able to rescue the crew of the Kulluk, and salvage crews were able to pull the vessel off the rocks without significant ecological harm. But the Kulluk incident capped off a year of missteps, and made it clear that Shell is not prepared to drill in the Arctic.

As Oceana’s Mike LeVine points out, “Shell currently faces two disabled vessels, two pending Coast Guard investigations, two notices of violation of the Clean Air Act, and an ongoing ‘assessment’ by the Department of the Interior.  Fundamentally, both the company and the government agencies charged with making decisions about our ocean resources are faced with a crisis of confidence.  The decisions to allow Shell to operate in the Arctic Ocean clearly were premature.” 

This week, the civil trial began in New Orleans against BP and its partners in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. During the opening statements, an attorney for the Justice Department said, "The evidence will show that BP put profits above people, profits before safety and profits before the environment.”

The attorney’s statement could easily describe Shell’s behavior in 2012, except that the company was forced, by its own failures, to stop before real disaster struck. We are extremely lucky to have avoided catastrophe considering the unforgiving conditions in Alaskan waters and the impossibility of cleaning up a spill.

Kudos to Oceana’s team and our allies in Alaska for their persistent campaign work to achieve this victory.

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana


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Oceana CEO: A Shocking Report on Your Seafood

Do you know what you're serving? Photo © Oceana

 

Do you know what you are serving your family tonight? If it’s fish there’s a good chance that you don’t.

Today Oceana unveiled its landmark national seafood fraud report, one of the largest of its kind and one that should make consumers sit up and demand change.

Over the past several years Oceana tested 1,215 fish samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states. DNA testing confirmed that fully one-third of this seafood was mislabeled—that is, what we ordered wasn’t what we got.

No matter where you live, seafood fraud is likely to be an issue. But if you live in Austin, Houston or Boston, it is especially widespread. According to our investigation, almost half of the fish tested in these cities was mislabeled.  In Southern California the problem was even worse, with mislabeled fish accounting for more than half (52%) of the seafood we tested! Elsewhere, rates of mislabeling were found to be 39 percent in New York City, 38 percent in Northern California and South Florida, 36 percent in Denver, 35 percent in Kansas City, 32 percent in Chicago, 26 percent in Washington, D.C., 21 percent in Portland and 18 percent in Seattle. Nationwide, sushi restaurants mislabeled their fish 74 percent of the time.

As one of our scientists told me, these findings are disturbing—and they’re disturbing for a few reasons. Not only can seafood fraud rip you off by making you pay more for less expensive fish but it can actually be bad for your health. Our scientists found that some fish that had landed a spot on the FDA’s “DO NOT EAT” list for sensitive groups such as pregnant women and children because of its high mercury content was nonetheless being substituted for safer fish. In New York this meant tilefish disguised as red snapper and halibut, while in South Florida king mackerel became grouper. Elsewhere escolar, an oily fish that is known for its purgative effects in some consumers, was substituted 84% of the time for white tuna

If that wasn’t bad enough, mislabeling can be harmful to the oceans as well. By disguising one species as another, it can be nearly impossible for consumers to make responsible decisions to avoid eating overfished species.

So what can you do about it? Right now the United States imports more than 90 percent of the seafood it consumes, but the FDA inspects less than one percent of that seafood specifically for fraud. Obviously this needs to change and we need to call upon our lawmakers to ensure full traceability for all seafood sold in the country. Oceana is hard at work behind the scenes to make this happen. In the meantime, if you don’t want to be duped by seafood fraud you can start by asking where and how your seafood was caught, be wary of fish that seems cheaper than it should and, when possible, buy fish whole.

Seafood is one of the healthiest sources of protein on the planet and should be a part of any healthy diet, but we need to know that what we’re buying is what the label says it is—for the good of our health, our wallets and our oceans.

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana


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Oceana CEO: Historic win for Europe's Fisheries

Bottom trawlers embark from Roses, Spain in Catalonia. ©Oceana/Juan Cuetos

I just received some tremendous news out of Europe.

After almost two years of debate, the European Parliament has voted to overhaul the management of its fisheries, the fifth largest in the world.  

The European fleet includes tens of thousands of vessels and catches 4.5 percent of the total world catch by weight, so the fact that Europe is on its way to becoming a leader in fisheries reform is incredibly good news for our oceans.

The vote in the Parliament makes it increasingly likely that a dramatic reform of Europe’s overarching fishing policy, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), will become law. The new CFP will ensure that fish stocks are caught at sustainable levels, known as the Maximum Sustainable Yield, by 2015. It will also, remarkably, put an end to the wasteful practice of discards, put Europe on a path to low-impact fishing, and set up a network of fish stock recovery areas.

Time and time again, we’ve seen that doing these three things – implementing science-based quotas, protecting habitat and limiting bycatch – can dramatically increase the amount of fish in the water.

Here are some of the key amendments included in the comprehensive reform policy:

  • follow scientific advice and adopt the precautionary principle in setting annual fishing quotas,
  • establish transparency with regards to data and fishing opportunities,
  • establish strong definitions for fishing protected areas and low impact fisheries,
  • support the establishment of fish stock recovery areas,
  • compliance with environmental legislation that requires good environmental status of marine waters by 2020,
  • require Member States to comply with CFP regulations in order to be eligible for subsidies.

This enormous win wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of Oceana and other ocean conservation advocates. Oceana and our allies have been campaigning for this reform for years in the European Union, one of the most overfished regions in the world. As I reported to you several weeks ago, the majority of the EU’s fish stocks that have been scientifically-assessed have been found to be overfished, with some species nearing extinction.

The EU Parliament will soon begin negotiations with the Council of Fisheries ministers to reach a final agreement on the details of the reform by June.

One thing is for sure already – 2013 is off to a promising start for the oceans.

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana


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CEO Note: Big Win for Wind

Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless

If you’ve been paying attention to news out of the nation’s capital, it would seem that there’s little to be encouraged about. But what you might not have heard is the genuinely good news that emerged when the dust settled on the so-called “fiscal cliff” deal just after the New Year. Thanks to tireless campaigning by Oceana, an unheralded bit of legislation, crucial to the future of the country’s clean renewable energy future, was passed by Congress.

On December 31st the Investment Tax Credit, or ITC, expired. The tax credit is essential to attracting investment in the country’s promising offshore wind industry. Had it not been renewed, it would have dealt a devastating blow to an industry that is just getting off its feet here in the United States (though it is well established overseas). While subsidies for the oil and gas industry are permanent features of the U.S. tax code, the future of the wind industry truly hung in the balance as Congress looked to forge an economic deal.

Thankfully, our elected representatives recognized the crippling consequences of inaction and included the ITC in the contentious deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

If we gave up on our burgeoning offshore wind industry, what exactly would we be giving up on? Well, an economic analysis prepared for the Department of Energy found that by 2030 the domestic offshore wind industry could create 200,000 jobs, bring in over $70 billion in annual investments and create 4,000 gigawatts of clean power, enough to power the entire United States four times over.

And wind energy is good for the ocean. While the Department of the Interior mulls a proposal to test for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean with seismic airguns that threaten tens of thousands of marine mammals, and as Shell continues to demonstrate the dangers of offshore drilling in ever more remote and hazardous locales, the need for developing our clean energy industry has never been clearer.

Thanks to Oceana, wind companies that had begun to scale back and even lay off workers in the face of fiscal and political uncertainty are hiring again. In the midst of a still sputtering economy, the renewal of the ITC means more manufacturing jobs and revitalized port industries.

But most importantly, it signals that the United States is serious about developing the untapped wealth of clean, renewable wind energy off its shores. Thanks to the work of our advocates and the wisdom of our representatives, a new wind blows in the country’s energy landscape.

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana


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CEO Note: Shell's Arctic Gamble

Coast Guard helicopter hoists crew members from the Kulluk. Photo: Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis

If you were paying attention over the winter break you might have heard about things going very awry up North. Shell, which last fall closed the books on a disastrous season trying to drill for oil in the Arctic, ran into even more serious trouble when its drill rig, the Kulluk, separated from the vessel towing it in 24-foot waves on December 27.

The incident kicked off a harrowing four-day struggle to bring the rig, carrying 140,000 gallons of diesel, and its crew to safety. On New Years Eve, the Kulluk ran aground just off of Kodiak Island in an area that is home to endangered Steller sea lions, threatened Steller’s eiders, threatened southwest sea otters, and salmon. Luckily, after a week salvage crews were able to pull the Kulluk off the rocks, and both the loss of life and an ecological disaster were averted—but barely.

In light of Shell’s activities in Alaska in the past year, which have progressed from comical to dire, the Department of the Interior has called for a 60-day review of the past season’s experience and an evaluation of whether activities like those Shell proposes in the Arctic Ocean are something this country can afford. In his role as the chief steward of the country’s environment President Obama has the chance to stand up for this country’s natural resources and put an end to this questionable venture, one that experience has proven will do nothing to lower prices at the pump.

Shell’s latest mishap in Alaskan waters was the culmination of a series of mishaps, problems, and near-disasters.  It required the heroic efforts of a fleet of salvage and rescue teams, by boat and by air, as the 266-foot drill rig went adrift in conditions that, although unforgiving, were hardly unusual for the region at this time of year. Shell’s decision to attempt to tow the rig, from Dutch Harbor, AK to Seattle in the dead of winter is just the latest reason to question Shell’s planning, preparedness, and capacity to operate in the inhospitable reaches of the far North.

Prior to the grounding of the Kulluk, the company had endured a Keystone Cops-like Arctic drilling season.  If it weren’t for the risk to life and our oceans, the bumbling would almost be funny: in June Shell lost control of its drillship, the Noble Discoverer, in Dutch Harbor, AK; the company later failed a test of its oil spill containment dome which was damaged in placid (un-Arctic like) conditions in Puget Sound off of Washington; Shell argued with the Coast Guard about the safety standards of its long-inactive oil spill response barge the Arctic Challenger;  it admitted it could not meet Clean Air Act standards; it reneged on a commitment to have the ability to clean up 95 percent of a major Arctic oil spill; and in November, there was an explosion and fire on the Noble Discoverer which is now reportedly under criminal investigation for safety and environmental violations. And just last Thursday the EPA announced that it was issuing air pollution citations to the oil giant for "multiple permit violations" during its foray in the Arctic last summer.

As Shell is learning the hard way, Alaska’s oceans can be unforgiving. The high wind and waves, unpredictable ice floes, near constant fog and an almost complete lack of infrastructure would make an oil spill impossible to clean up.  Shell’s disastrous year in the Arctic should be more than enough evidence to help the Department of the Interior reach the correct decision: oil companies are not prepared to drill in the Arctic.

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana


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CEO Note: Building a Better Baltic

Baltic in winter. Photo courtesy NASA

The Baltic Sea is in terrible shape. One of the most polluted seas in the world, more than 90% of commercially exploitable species in the Baltic and the adjacent Kattegat are fished without any limits.

That changed last Friday when the authorities of Uusimaa and the Southeast Finland Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment banned all wild sea trout fisheries in the Gulf of Finland. Wild sea trout is critically endangered in the Baltic Sea and has suffered under almost nonexistent management. Before the ban there was simply no limit to how much Baltic sea trout could be caught.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament recently announced that it would stake out a new, more responsible management strategy for Baltic Sea salmon, a fish hobbled, gravely in some areas, by similarly slipshod and unscientific management. Both developments are a validation of Oceana’s hard work in the region.

Earlier this year, Oceana’s research vessel, the Hanse Explorer, set off for a six-week expedition to the Baltic and Kattegat seas. The purpose of that trip was to document and map vulnerable areas and to study the marine life of these brackish waters through extensive sampling, as well as dives by remote operated vehicle and scuba divers (such as Oceana senior advisor Alexandra Cousteau who joined the cruise). This work will be crucial moving forward as the region works to rebuild its ailing fisheries, and it’s already started to pay off.

With the EU and Baltic countries signaling a renewed commitment to the stewardship of this unique but imperiled ecosystem there is very real hope that it can recover. But that will require the vigilance of Europe’s leaders and citizens, and of organizations like Oceana, which has been leading the charge in the effort to save the Baltic.

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana


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CEO Note: Health of the Oceans a Non-partisan Issue

©Wikimedia Commons

Election Day in the United States is here, and I often get asked – what are the politics of the ocean? Is one side better at protecting the oceans than the other? Where does Oceana stand?

The answer may surprise you: The oceans are truly a non-partisan issue and Oceana is, as a result, truly a non-partisan organization. We stand with the oceans, which requires working wherever there are ocean champions – and there are champions (and enemies) on all sides of the political spectrum around the world.  We have to be non-partisan to be effective and achieve our mission, which is to win policy victories for the seas in a three to five year time horizon.

Oceana’s ten plus years of campaigning for the oceans bears this out; our biggest victories have come from working with conservatives, liberals and middle of the roaders. President George W. Bush, along with his United States Trade Representative Rob Portman, were big champions behind our efforts to curb destructive fishing subsidies and helped us get the issue on the map at the World Trade Organization.  We worked with Senator John Kerry and Senator John McCain to protect sharks.  President Sebastián Piñera, Chile’s conservative leader, was a driving force behind Oceana’s historic victory in winning the designation of Sala y Gómez and Easter Island as one of the biggest protected areas in the world. We’ve had knock-down drag-out fights on fisheries regulation in New England with the liberal Congressman Barney Frank and then worked with him to combat seafood fraud. We both fought and worked closely with the late great Republican leader Senator Ted Stevens, who played a big role in helping Oceana protect over a million square miles of ocean. In Belize, we’ve worked with a liberal government on the protection of all Belizean waters, the home of the second largest barrier reef in the world, and with the conservative opposition on opposing offshore oil drilling. I could go on and on.

As a result, Oceana’s staff, board and supporters come from all parts of the political spectrum. If you look closely, you’ll find passionate supporters, in their personal lives, of President Obama, Governor Romney and others at all levels of the organization. And you will also find that all of us are very proud – and protective – of Oceana’s non-partisan status and success in working across the aisle. I hope that you, as an Oceana supporter and friend, share this pride in Oceana’s effectiveness and non-partisan nature.

So, where does that leave us with the election? Well, it means that we are very much NOT involved in elections. It is not only because of our non-profit status, it is also because we truly believe that ultimately we will need to work with any and all parties to win our campaigns. That said, I encourage all of you to go and vote for the candidate of your choice, and to help us engage whoever wins in the work needed to protect our seas.


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