The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

CEO Note: Sea Turtles Deserve a Breather

I want to update you on a needless tragedy that continues to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

As I told you in May, Oceana uncovered government data showing that the shrimp fishery has been violating sea turtle protection rules, which likely has caused thousands of endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic to be needlessly killed by shrimp trawls.

It’s been more than a month since our discovery, but the government is still standing by and watching as the sea turtles deaths continue.

Our campaigners uncovered official government documents showing that shrimp trawlers required to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) are often using them improperly or not at all. TEDs are escape hatches for sea turtles, who need to reach the surface to breathe. The documents even show that some shrimpers have deliberately sewn TEDs shut—condemning any sea turtle they catch to death.

Shockingly, there are some types of shrimp trawls, like “skimmer trawls” that are not even required to use TEDs at all. Instead, these trawls are supposedly required to limit the length of time they tow their nets to prevent sea turtles from drowning. However, the government documents show that these time limits are not enforceable and demonstrate that TEDs should be required for these shrimp trawls as well.

In part as a result of pressure from Oceana, the government has announced that it will be conducting a formal analysis of the shrimp fishery’s impact on threatened and endangered sea turtles and will be considering options for additional protections.

This is a pathetically slow response. It is appalling that the fishery is allowed to continue operating despite evidence that shrimpers in the region are likely responsible for the death of record numbers of sea turtles. Oceana has called for the immediate closure of the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery until and unless adequate sea turtle protections are established and enforced.

Sea turtles have been swimming in the oceans for millions of years, and now they are being unnecessarily pushed toward extinction. It's time to give sea turtles a breather. The government should act immediately to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles.


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Would You Pass the Seafood Pop Quiz?

The fish pop quiz. © Oceana/Vincent Ricardel.

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

Oceana’s new Seafood Fraud campaign kicked off Wednesday with an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. As the Washington Post reported, it wasn’t just a press conference; it was also a seafood pop quiz.

Our campaigners asked audience members to identify skinless fillets of halibut and fluke by sight, and did the same for red snapper vs. hake and for farmed vs. wild salmon. Then they conducted a taste test between tilapia and vermilion snapper.

The result? While a few fish-savvy folks passed the tests, many people couldn’t tell the difference, which is a simple illustration of how easy it is to fool seafood consumers.

That’s one of the key points of our new report, “Bait and Switch,” which explains how consumers are frequently served a completely different fish species than the one they paid for. Seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish such as red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, according to recent studies.


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The Real Reason for High Gas Prices

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana; this post also appeared on Politico.

Why do we take terrible risks to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere along our coasts?

Most people would say we drill to protect ourselves from big fluctuations in the price of a gallon of gas that are caused by the major upheavals in the Middle East. Look at this chart (data from the Energy Information Administration):

Their argument is that the more oil we can produce domestically, the lower the price we’ll pay at the pump. It’s not that they like the sight of oil wells off our beaches. The main reason they are doing so is they think it will save them money – especially as gas prices approached $4 a gallon recently.

This idea is not only intuitively appealing, it is repeatedly, and unambiguously, promoted by important government officials from both parties. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La) defended new legislation that would expand offshore oil drilling, saying “this bill would do more to lower gas prices at the pump than any other plan.” Sarah Palin criticized President Barack Obama, “His war on domestic oil and gas exploration and production has caused us pain at the pump.”


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Good News for Sharks and the Oceans

I have several good news items to share with you this week.

First, I am happy to announce that our trawling ban in Belize is now official. Belize is home to a major portion of the world’s second largest reef system as a well as a thriving local fishing community, and the ban protects both these essential elements of Belizean life.

Belize is one of only a few countries in the world to completely ban trawling. We won this important victory with the help of the local community, our staff in Belize and Sir Thomas Moore, a longtime supporter of Oceana’s work around the world.

Second, we have made great strides in our campaign to save sharks. As top predators, sharks are essential to a healthy ocean, and a hundred million sharks are killed every year by the industrial fishing industry – mostly for their fins.

Late last year, we won an incredible victory to protect sharks with the passage of the Shark Conservation Act, which banned shark finning in the United States. Now, we are on the verge of gaining two more important victories to protect sharks.


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Christie’s Green Auction Approaches

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

I wanted to give you advance notice of Christie’s Green Auction: A Bid to Save the Earth on March 29th at New York’s Rockefeller Center. This special event premiered last year, raising an unprecedented $2.4 million for Oceana, Conservation International, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Central Park Conservancy.

I applaud Christie’s for its vision and initiative; every item up for bid is donated by generous supporters, and Christie’s is waiving all customary auction fees so that all proceeds benefit the groups.  

A Bid to Save The Earth will include the live auction at Christie’s on March 29th as well as an online silent auction at Charity Buzz that started yesterday.

The auction features coveted celebrity experiences, upscale eco-vacations and other once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You can bid to win a day shadowing President Bill Clinton; a three-day getaway on the luxury super yacht Lady Sheridan during the Cannes Film Festival offered by the owners and Burgess Yachts; and a ten-night trip featuring the exceptional wildlife of Tanzania and the stunning beaches of Mozambique offered by Nomad Tanzania, Vamizi Island and Journeys by Design.  


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More Dolphin Deaths in the Gulf

Dolphins leaping in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana. You can follow him on Twitter @Oceana_Andy.

Nearly a year has passed since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and began a three-month-long oil spill. In the later months of last year, after the gushing oil well had finally been capped, some people – politicians and TV talking heads, really – tried to convince Americans that the Gulf had recovered.

It’s true that we still don’t know the extent of the damage wrought by last summer’s oil disaster. The subsurface gusher created a whole new scientific challenge when it came to understanding exactly what was going on. And we’ve said that it would be years before we understand the true cost of the disaster.

Just recently we got a sign that not is all well in the Gulf. Since January, more than 80 bottlenose dolphins have turned up dead – and half of those are newborn or stillborn calves. The government is calling it “an unusual mortality event.”


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What the Oil Spill Commission Missed

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

Last week, the federal government released a report from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. In some ways, the Commission got it exactly right. After extensive study, the Commission concluded that:

•    The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster was not an isolated incident, and
•    It was the result of systemic failure in the oil industry and its government regulators.

But where the Commission failed was in its recommendations for the future of the oil industry in America. While acknowledging that offshore drilling can never be safe, the Commission declined to recommend removing the cap on liability for drilling disasters like the Deepwater Horizon. Explaining this decision on national television, Chairman Reilly said that some Commission members worried that removing liability limits for disasters would cause the international oil companies to transfer operations to countries that limited their risks from failures like the one this summer in the Gulf.


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The Year Ahead for Oceana

A new year has brought us a new U.S. Congress. While there has been a changeover in power on the political stage, I am hopeful that the new Congress will continue a great tradition of truly bipartisan support for ocean conservation.

In recent years, we’ve seen incredible progress from both ends of the political spectrum. President Bush established one of the world’s largest marine reserves in the Pacific as he was leaving office, and President Obama recently ended offshore drilling for much of the American coastline. Just last month, the outgoing Congress unanimously passed a ban on shark finning in U.S. waters.


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Victory In Chile Against Coal-Fired Power Plant

We've been working in Chile to protect its incredible coastline from a proposed coal-fired power plant that would threaten Punta de Choros, home to amazing wildlife including endangered blue whales and Humboldt penguins. In recent days, grassroots opposition to the power plant grew after the power plant received its environmental permit, with peaceful demonstrations that were ultimately dispersed with tear gas and water cannons as well as a massive outpouring of criticism from Chileans online.

So it is with great satisfaction that I report that Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has announced he has persuaded Suez Energy not to build its power plant near Punta de Choros. In addition, he asked his cabinet to review all the industrial projects that produce environmental damage being considered in the country to see whether they could affect protected areas.

This is an incredible victory for Chileans, 94 percent of whom opposed the power plant in a recent poll. Against the odds, we changed a formal government decision, and the amazing marine ecosystem of Punta de Choros will remain protected.

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.


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New Video from Oceana Chile

Our colleagues down in Chile have just released a fantastic new video featuring Chilean actress Leonor Varela, who recently visited the pristine region of Punta de Choros in Northern Chile to promote Oceana's Energy Campaign.

Our team in Chile has been working to prevent several proposed coal-fired power plants from being built near pristine marine reserves in Punta de Choros.

During her visit, Varela asked Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to keep his campaign promise to oppose all thermoelectric power plants that negatively affect communities, the environment and quality of life.

Check it out:

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.


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