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Oceana Magazine Summer 2009: Making Waves

U.N. designates June 8 World Oceans Day

Due in part to more than 10,000 petitions from Wavemakers, Oceana's online supporters, the United Nations officially declared June 8 as World Oceans Day. This celebration of the planet's oceans was first proposed 14 years ago. To mark the day, Oceana held events across the country, from a La Mer-sponsored party at Oceana chairman Keith Addis' California home to a Nautica event in New York City. Board member Ted Danson spoke on CNN and MSNBC about ocean conservation.




Salmon saved from pollock nets

A series of letters and public testimony from Oceana, Alaska native entities, salmon fishermen, and Western Alaska communities contributed to a significant victory for declining wild salmon populations in early April.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council endorsed long overdue rules to limit, for the first time, the number of chinook, or king, salmon that the Bering Sea pollock industry incidentally kills every year. The new rules mandate an annual cap of 60,000 chinook that can be caught by the fishery.

Factory boats in Alaska's Bering Sea comprise one of the world's largest fisheries, catching billions of pollock every year for frozen fish fillets and fish sticks. The fishery also intercepts tens of thousands of chinook
salmon before they can return to Alaskan and Pacific Northwest rivers to spawn.

In recent years, the amount of salmon bycatch in the pollock fishery rose sharply Salmon saved from pollock nets from 46,993 in 2003 to a record high of 121,704 in 2007 at the same time that chinook salmon stocks plummeted throughout the Pacific.

In comparison, just 70,000 salmon returned to spawn in the Sacramento River in 2007, less than one-tenth of the amount that returned in 2001. Wild salmon populations have declined dramatically in recent years, resulting in the decision to cancel the California salmon fishing season in 2008 and again this year.

While Oceana and others had sought to cap the amount of salmon bycatch at 32,500 fish, the Council's vote was a substantial move toward the recovery efforts of the coveted fish. The U.S. Secretary of Commerce
will review the council's recommendation and make a final decision, and regulations are expected to take effect by 2011.


Mercury bill advances in U.S.

In June, a critical piece of legislation to end mercury pollution from chlorine plants in the United States advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Mercury is a heavy metal which can attack the central nervous system, with particularly damaging effects in infants and young children.

The Mercury Pollution Reduction Act (HR 2190) passed a subcommittee vote that now allows it to now be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce committee. The act would phase out mercury pollution from chlorine plants within two years of its passage, and is an updated version of a similar bill introduced by then-senator President Barack Obama.

In the process, Oceana's allies in the House defeated two important amendments that would have seriously crippled this important bill. Olin Corporation, which owns two mercury-polluting plants, fought to have the
deadline for mercury phaseout pushed back to 2020.

Another amendment would have allowed companies to continue exporting mercury until 2013, when the Mercury Export Ban required by legislation last year goes into effect, essentially creating a "fire sale" on mercury.

When Oceana began its campaign in 2005, nine chlorine plants in the U.S. still used outdated technology that resulted in mercury emitted into our atmosphere and waterways. Five have switched to cleaner technology or shut down during Oceana's concentrated campaign, which includes both legislative and grassroots efforts.

However, four plants continue to use mercury to make chlorine, and those four would be required to switch if the Mercury Pollution Reduction Act passes.


Bluefin tuna season begins with new protections

In a repeat of an Oceana victory from 2008, the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishing season for purse seiners closed early in mid-June, in part as a result of Oceana's work to protect the endangered fish. The purse seine
fleet is responsible for 70 percent of the tuna caught in the Mediterranean.

But the early closure of the fishing season, which was marked by illegality and a lack of transparency, does not signify the end of all fishing activities. Oceana has documented the illegal landing of tons of bluefin tuna in the South Tyrrhenian Sea off the west coast of Italy, one of the most important spawning areas for the species in the Mediterranean.

In late May, Oceana observers witnessed the illegal landing of 20 large bluefin tunas, weighing approximately two tons, in the Sicilian port of Porticello. Neither the port nor the vessels were authorized to land the tuna.

At its annual meeting in November in Marrakech, Morocco, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas set the catch quota considerably higher than Oceana and even ICCAT's scientists recommended for the recovery of the imperiled fish.

Oceana continues to call for the total closure of the fishery in light of evidence that stocks are on a trajectory to collapse.


Ban on high seas longlines upheld

Oceana's persistent advocacy efforts on the U.S. west coast paid off in early April when the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to maintain a prohibition on a West Coast-based high seas longline fishery. The vote will prevent the opening of a proposed swordfish fishery that was expected to also catch and kill threatened and endangered loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles, marine mammals, seabirds and fish.

The National Marine Fisheries Service had proposed to open the high seas longline fishery that would target swordfish more than 200 miles off the coast of California and Oregon. Longline gear used to target swordfish
within 200 miles from shore in California has been prohibited since the 1970s due to environmental concerns including the capture and killing of sea turtles and the bycatch of recreationally important fish.

Pelagic longline fisheries for swordfish deploy rope like lines between 9 and 90 miles long with 700 to 1,300 hooks branching of the main line. Pelagic longlines are known to incidentally catch and kill sea turtles, tunas, sharks and many other untargeted species. The proposed fishery would have allowed up to 30 fishing vessels deploying an estimated 1.8 million hooks per year.

A west coast-based high seas longline fishery operated for more than a decade until a court ruling in 2001 closed much of the high seas fishing area to protect threatened loggerhead sea turtles migrating between nesting beaches in Japan and foraging grounds in Baja California.


Oceana crowns Ocean Hero

Thousands of Wavemakers voted in Oceana's first annual Ocean Heroes contest in June, crowning John Halas as the inaugural winner on June 8, World Oceans Day. Halas, a marine biologist and manager of the Upper Region of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, developed an environmentally friendly anchor and mooring buoy system that prevents damage to coral reefs. He worked to get hundreds of the systems installed over the last two decades.

"My work is something I have felt strongly about and it is really a great honor to receive this acknowledgement," Halas said. He won a $500 gift card from Nautica and an outgoing voicemail message recorded by Oceana board member Ted Danson.

Bob Schoelkopf, founder of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in New Jersey, earned the second highest number of votes, while shark expert and Discovery Channel advisor Andy Dehart came in third. Oceana received hundreds of nominations and garnered thousands of votes in the contest.