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Oceana Magazine Spring 2009: Making Waves

Pristine U.S. Arctic protected from industrial fishing

In a landmark move, the U.S. part of the Arctic Ocean has been protected from an expansion of commercial fishing.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously in February to close nearly 200,000 square miles to commercial fishing - an area much larger than California - of unfished Arctic waters in response to the growing effects of climate change, which will open previously inaccessible ocean to industrialization through the loss of sea ice cover.

The decision is one of the largest preventative measures in fisheries history. The Council's action closes the Arctic until there is enough information to manage fishing sustainably without harming the marine ecosystem.

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, with unprecedented loss of sea ice cover in recent years, especially during the summer melt season. Currently undisturbed by commercial fishing nets, trawls and longlines, the U.S. Arctic Ocean could become the next fishing hotspot as waters become more navigable and fish species expand northward as the region continues to warm.

The closure helps ensure the U.S. Arctic will be protected from the changing geography of fisheries. The area contains several endangered species like the bowhead whale, polar bear and spectacled eider.

In addition, the U.S. Arctic is home to numerous coastal communities whose food, culture and spirituality are strongly linked to the health of the marine environment. Unsustainable commercial fishing would threaten opportunities for the subsistence way of life practiced in the Arctic for generations.

Oceana worked with a coalition including Audubon Alaska, Ocean Conservancy and the Pew Environment Group, as well as scientists, local Arctic communities and fishermen to ensure the passage of these protections.


Dr. Lark vows to stop selling shark squalane

After nearly a year of pressure from Oceana, beauty care supplier Dr. Susan Lark agreed in January to stop selling cosmetic products containing squalane from the livers of deep-sea sharks.

Thanks in part to more than 15,000 Oceana Wavemakers who contacted Lark, she announced the development of a new product that contains squalane from olives instead of sharks. Squalane is often used as a skin moisturizer, and it is also found naturally in amaranth seed, rice bran and wheat germ.

When Oceana first criticized Lark for selling shark squalane last year, she argued that the sharks used in her products were discards of the orange roughy fishery, which is one of the most damaging deep-sea trawl fisheries in the world. Moreover, deep-sea sharks are some of the most vulnerable shark species because they grow slowly, mature late in life and have only a few young. As a result, their populations are at risk from exploitation and recover very slowly.

This is not the first squalane victory for Oceana. In early 2008, thousands of Wavemakers wrote to the Vermont Country Store, a supplier of the coincidentally-named "Oceana" shark squalane, and convinced the store to remove the product from its shelves. Unilever, L'Oreal and other international brands have also removed shark squalane from their cosmetics.


Council takes emergency action for sea turtles

In response to pressure from Oceana and other conservation groups, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passed an emergency rule in January to protect sea turtles from bottom longline fishing gear in the Gulf of Mexico reef fish fishery. Under the rule, longline gear will be prohibited in waters where the turtles forage. The closure will be in place for six months to a year while the National Marine Fisheries Service develops a long-term solution.

According to recent government data, nearly 1,000 sea turtles were caught by bottom longlines in this fishery in just 18 months, which is eight times the federally authorized capture level for the entire fishery. About half of the captured sea turtles died.

The longline fishery sends out miles of fishing line with thousands of baited hooks that sink to the ocean floor to catch snapper and grouper. Sea turtles that are attracted to the bait are caught by the hooks and can drown because they are unable to rise to the surface for air.

An estimated 799 of the nearly 1,000 sea turtles caught by the bottom longline sector of this fishery were loggerheads, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.


European high court condemns France’s driftnets

The European Court of Justice issued a ruling in March that denounced the continued use of illegal fishing gear in France, following a similar statement by the European Commission in December.

Until last year, France had used a legal loophole in order to ignore the E.U. ban on the use of this fishing gear. The ruling confirms that France will not be able to exploit the loophole in future fishing seasons.

Made from invisible, fine-meshed plastic, driftnets are several dozen feet tall and can stretch for miles. The nets are notorious for indiscriminately catching and killing marine life, including marine mammals, sharks and juvenile fish. In the Mediterranean, driftnets are often used to catch endangered bluefin tuna.

Oceana's research vessel, Ranger, has documented the use of illegal driftnets in the Mediterranean since 2006. The photographs and video taken by Ranger's crew have proven critical in the fight to get governments to enforce the driftnet ban. Thanks to Oceana's work, the 2008 driftnet fishery was cancelled. The European Court of Justice is the latest entity to join the growing chorus against the wasteful and illegal fishing gear.

In Italy, a fleet of 150 boats continues to use driftnets in violation of E.U. law. Xavier Pastor, vice president for Oceana in Europe, hopes for a similar ruling against Italy this year.


Chile cuts antibiotic use in salmon farming

In March, the government of Chile approved significant changes in its salmon aquaculture industry with a plan that incorporates key criteria promoted by Oceana.

Because farmed salmon are kept in high-density pens in Chile, the fish are susceptible to disease. The industry has responded by feeding large quantities of antibiotics to the fish, which can harm the antibiotic's efficacy for other uses, including treatment on humans.

Oceana pressured Chile to end the prophylactic use of antibiotics in the farming of salmon, set limits on the density of salmon pens, develop vaccines to replace antibiotics and establish a public information system regarding antibiotic use. The government adopted these tenets as part of its Use and Management Plan for Antibiotics in Salmon Aquaculture.

The government did not follow Oceana's recommendation to end the use of one class of antibiotics, quinolones, which are not approved from use in livestock in the United States. The U.S. purchases nearly 80 percent of Chile's fresh salmon exports.