Fantastic news from the international negotiations we told you about last week: the talks concluded on Friday with conservation measures that will protect more than 16.1 million square miles of seafloor habitat in the North Pacific Ocean from bottom trawling and other bottom contact gear.
Delegates also concluded negotiations on a new treaty. Once signed and ratified, it will establish a new fishery management organization charged with sustainably managing North Pacific Ocean fisheries.
Bottom trawls are massive weighted nets that drag along the ocean floor, destroying anything in their path, including ancient coral forests, gardens of anemones and entire fields of sea sponges. Today’s bottom trawlers go deeper and farther from shore than they could ever reach before, into high seas areas populated with slow-growing deep-sea fish and corals that are especially slow to recover from trawling. Nets can be 200 feet wide and 40 feet high, weighing as much as 1,000 pounds and reaching depths of more than 5,000 feet.
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.
In a culmination of years of work by Oceana and our allies, Congress has ended shark finning in U.S. waters with the passage today of the Shark Conservation Act.
This morning the U.S. House approved the Senate version of the Shark Conservation Act (passed yesterday), which now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.
Shark finning is the brutal practice of slicing off a shark's fins, often for use in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. The shark -- sometimes still alive -- is thrown back into the water to bleed to death. In addition, without the fins attached, many sharks can’t be identified, which further impedes management.
Sharks have been swimming the world’s oceans for more than 400 million years and as apex predators, they play a vital role in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems. But due to their slow growth rate and low level of reproduction, sharks are especially vulnerable to pressure from human exploitation. Many shark populations have declined to levels where they are unable to perform their roles as top predators in the ecosystem.
This is an enormous victory for sharks and for the oceans. Huge thanks to all of you who have taken action over the years to help make this happen! You can thank your Representatives and Senators for protecting sharks, too.
Yet another victory today, if you can believe it. In a last minute vote, the U.S. Senate passed the Shark Conservation Act, which will end shark finning in U.S. waters.
Each year, commercial fishing gear kills more than 100 million sharks worldwide – including tens of millions for just their fins, for use in shark fin soup. Landing sharks with their fins still attached allows for better enforcement and data collection for stock assessments and quota monitoring.
The Shark Conservation Act improves the existing law originally intended to prevent shark finning, and it also allows the U.S. to take action against countries whose shark finning restrictions are not as strenuous. The passage of this bill signals the U.S.’s ongoing commitment to shark conservation.
Only one step stands in the way of this bill becoming law -- it returns to the House for one final vote to accept the Senate’s version of the legislation. We’re almost there…
Thanks to all of you who helped us -- and the sharks -- get this far!
I hope you’re not tired of good news -- because we have another big dose for you today.
Olin Corporation announced today that it will phase out the use of mercury in its chlor-alkali manufacturing process in its Charleston, Tennessee facility by the end of 2012. Plus, the company plans to turn its Augusta, Georgia plant into a bleach plant and distribution center, discontinuing chlor-alkali manufacturing (and thus, mercury use).
The Tennessee facility is the largest mercury-based factory left in the United States. Built in 1962, Olin Corp.’s factory has consistently been the largest mercury emitter in the entire state of Tennessee. The factory, which produces chlorine and caustic soda, discharges mercury directly to the Hiwassee River and is likely the primary cause of the fish consumption advisory on that portion of the river.
Oceana has been working since 2005 to convince mercury-based chlorine plants to convert to cleaner technology. Since then, two factories have closed and three others are in the process of converting or have converted to mercury-free technology. With Olin’s announcement, there are now only two remaining plants using mercury - Ashta Chemicals in Ashtabula, Ohio and PPG Industries in Natrium, West Virginia.
A huge win out of Belize today: All forms of trawling have been banned in the country's waters. And we’re proud to say that our colleagues in Belize played a crucial role in making it happen.
While there had been a call to ban the destructive fishing gear several years ago, the political will was lacking. But when UNESCO recently threatened to strip the Belize Barrier Reef of its World Heritage Site status, the government took notice. Oceana in Belize collaborated with Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s administration to negotiate the buy-out of the two shrimp trawlers.
Shrimp trawls are notorious for the amount of bycatch (untargeted catch) they haul in. Thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and untargeted fish are caught in shrimp trawlers around the world every year. Meanwhile, bottom trawlers’ weighted nets effectively raze the ocean floor with every pass, destroying sensitive corals and anything else in their way.
Step right up to the Carnival of the Blue #42, where you may or may or may not discover the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Come one, come all!
This month’s Carnival of the Blue is brought to you from the ever-so-coastal country of Chile, where I am currently working out of our Santiago office helping with their website redesign. It’s also a fitting theme because this month was a superb one for Chile’s oceans.
On the heels of our recent victory to save Chile’s Punta de Choros from a coal-fired power plant, this month, Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera announced the creation of Sala y Gómez Marine Park, a no-take marine reserve of 150,000 square kilometers around Sala y Gómez island, and the Chilean government announced a drastic reduction in the fishing quota for jack mackerel and other fisheries, starting in 2011. (Oh yeah, and don’t forget those 33 miners...)
Now let’s have a look at what else happened this month around the world wide wet web of ours:
Our Chilean colleagues are really on a roll lately. Adding to their recent victories in Sala y Gomez and Punta de Choros, last week the Chilean government announced a drastic reduction in the fishing quota for jack mackerel and other fisheries, starting in 2011.
The triumph against overfishing comes after Oceana sent the Minister of Economy a report analyzing the annual quota set for jack mackerel during the past 10 years. The study, put together with data that Oceana obtained through Chile’s Freedom of Information Act, shows that between 2003 and 2010 the National Fisheries Council set the annual quota for jack mackerel at higher catch limits than was recommended by the Institute for Fisheries Development. In fact, in 2009 the quota was 87 percent higher than what was recommended by the agency.
As a result, the Minister of Economy went to a session of the National Fisheries Council to express his frustration, and in an unprecedented event, he asked them to set smaller quotas for next year.
Another hard-earned victory for Oceana Chile and the oceans!
We were hoping this day would come, and today, it did!
In a huge victory this morning for Chile’s marine health and our Chilean colleagues, Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera announced the creation of Sala y Gómez Marine Park, a no-take marine reserve of 150,000 square kilometers around Sala y Gómez island.
Sala y Gómez is an uninhabited island that’s part of a biodiverse chain of seamounts that are vulnerable to fishing activity. Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Ocean Fellow, called Sala y Gómez “one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean.”
Last March, Oceana, National Geographic and the Waitt Foundation conducted a preliminary scientific expedition to the island and found abundant populations of vulnerable species such as sharks and lobsters, much larger than in the depleted ecosystem in nearby Easter Island, which is not protected from fishing. In addition, the scientists found unexpectedly high biodiversity in deeper waters.
We're celebrating a big win yesterday for loggerhead sea turtles.
In response to two petitions submitted in 2007 by Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, yesterday the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed rule to change the status of North Pacific and Northwest Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.
The government also proposed listing loggerhead sea turtles around the globe as nine separate populations, each with its own threatened or endangered status.
The change in listing status means the populations are in danger of extinction and will trigger a legal requirement for proposed critical habitat, an important step in achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding habitat in the ocean.