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Oceana Magazine Spring 2013: Making Waves

Offshore drilling leases expire in Belize

Belize blue hole

The azure waters off of Belize are slowly slipping out of the hands of the oil and gas industry as most of the leases for oil drilling in the country’s waters have expired and reverted to government control.

Before Oceana arrived in 2009, almost all of the country’s ocean—7,465 of 8,648 square miles or 86 percent of its ocean— had been leased to oil companies to explore the possibility of offshore drilling. This leased area included such hallowed spots as the Blue Hole, a massive underwater sinkhole made famous by the dives of Jacques Cousteau.

Fast forward to 2012 and only 2,343 square miles or 27 percent of Belize’s ocean is still claimed by oil companies. That is because many leases have expired and not been re-issued by the Belizean government, thanks to increasing pressure by Oceana and other organizations in the region. After continued public calls by Oceana to remove oil concessions off the Blue Hole, the government made the bold move to call on Princess Petroleum Company to voluntarily give up their rights to drill on the Blue Hole, recognizing that the country’s natural heritage is worth far more than the fossil fuels it sits on. Oceana is pushing for a full ban of oil drilling in the waters off of Belize, a proposal with almost unanimous popular support in the tropical nation.

Victories for New England fish

Oceana won two major victories for fish in New England in January. The first is a legal settlement that establishes, for the first time, strict monitoring of bycatch in the Northeast groundfish fishery.

As a result of the settlement, the New England groundfish fishery, which catches Atlantic cod, haddock and flounder, among others, must strictly account for how much fish it’s catching and discarding.

Secondly, the New England Fisheries Management Council approved a new set of significantly reduced annual catch limits for two stocks of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. While all stocks of Atlantic cod have been overfished to alarming levels, the cod populations in these two areas have dropped to dire levels. The Gulf of Maine cod population is currently at less than 19 percent of its target level, while the Georges Bank cod population is at 7 percent. The new limits will reduce catches in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank by 77 percent and 55 percent, respectively, in a last-ditch effort to save these populations.

Oceana has been campaigning for years to establish science-based monitoring of this historically overfished region of the U.S.

ICCAT preserves limits for bluefin tuna

Thanks to pressure from Oceana and other organizations, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) agreed to keep its catch limits for 2013 for Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna largely the same as 2012, even as stocks of this beleaguered fish show signs of improving. ICCAT is an international body responsible for managing populations of tuna and other highly migratory species, like sharks, that cross international boundaries over the course of their life cycle.

The commission has come under fire in recent years for ignoring scientific recommendations and setting fishing quotas outside of sustainable levels. The agreement, therefore, was a welcome development for bluefin, which has seen the biomass of its Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean populations dramatically reduced in the past two decades. For this stock ICCAT passed only a modest increase in catch limits. For the Western population of Atlantic bluefin tuna which has been reduced by more than 82 percent, ICCAT voted to freeze catch limits at their 2012 levels.

EU passes historic overhaul of fishing policy

In February the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favor of a comprehensive reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), a law that manages all European fisheries. The reform includes amendments that require member states to fish all stocks at sustainable levels by 2015 and puts an end to the practice of discards, throwing dead unwanted fish back into the sea.

The CFP has an enormous impact on the world’s oceans. The European fleet comprises tens of thousands of boats that catch almost 4.5 percent of the total fish by weight worldwide, making the EU the fifth biggest fishing power in the world. The last CFP was adopted in 2002 but has failed to put a stop to the overexploitation of European fishing grounds. Oceana has been working for over 20 months to make sure that this once in a decade opportunity to reform the failed EU fisheries policy was not wasted.

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

Sea trout fishing banned in the Baltic Sea’s Gulf of Finland

Last summer, alarming surveys from the Finnish Baltic Sea found that wild sea trout had become critically endangered in the Gulf of Finland. Until recently, there were no limits to how much wild sea trout could be caught, despite a steady decline in recent decades and evidence that populations in Finland and Russia were well below historic levels.

That changed after the regional authorities of Uusimaa and the Southeast Finland Centres for Economic Development, transport and the Environment banned all wild sea trout fisheries in the Gulf of Finland to give the stock a chance to rebuild. The ban, which was a direct result of Oceana’s campaign work, excludes coastal waters, including critical river estuaries, and Oceana is working to ban fisheries in those areas as well.

EU bans shark finning

After years of campaigning by Oceana and its allies, “fins-attached” is the law of the land in the EU, after the European Parliament voted for a strict ban on shark finning for all vessels in EU waters, as well as for all EU vessels around the world.

While a ban on shark finning has technically been in place in the EU since 2003, the new measure closes several major loopholes by requiring that all sharks are landed with their fins attached. This policy introduces a strict ban on the practice of finning, in which sharks are taken out of the water, their fins are cut off, and the rest of the shark is thrown back to the water, sometimes still alive.

The EU is the world’s largest exporter of shark fins to Hong Kong and mainland China, and the world’s top shark fishing power. Oceana has previously campaigned successfully for bans on shark finning in the United States and Chile.

Tax credit for offshore wind renewed

offshore wind stats graphic As the U.S. veered ever closer to the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the future of the nation’s offshore wind industry hung in the balance. A financing tool crucial to luring investment to the industry, known as the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), was set to expire on December 31, 2012 unless Congress acted to renew it.

While the credit technically lapsed momentarily, after extensive campaigning by Oceana and other groups, Congress decided to renew the ITC as part of the fiscal deal reached in the New Year. Had the ITC not been renewed, it would have dealt a severe blow to an industry that, though well-established elsewhere, is just getting established in the U.S.

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 4 times over.