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Oceana Magazine Summer 2011: Making Waves

Chile Ends Shark Finning

In July, the Chilean National Congress passed legislation drafted by Oceana that ends shark finning in the country’s vast national waters. Finning is the practice of removing a shark’s fins at sea and throwing the bleeding torso overboard to die. Most of the fins go to China where they are used in shark fin soup.

An investigation by Oceana revealed that Chile exported 71 tons of dried shark fins from eight different species between 2006 and 2009.

An exploding demand for shark fin soup over the last decade has contributed greatly to shark population declines around the world. Tens of millions of sharks die every year for their fins, and some shark populations have declined as much as 99 percent. As top predators, sharks are critical to healthy ocean ecosystems that include marine mammals and seafood species.

Chile’s 4,000 miles of coastline are home to many shark species, including the whale shark, basking shark, porbeagle and shortfin mako. Chile is now one of the only countries in the world to require sharks to be landed with fins attached.


Shark Fin Trade Ban Grows on West Coast

A year after playing a critical role in an improved U.S. ban on shark finning, Oceana has taken its fight to protect sharks to the next stage by advocating for laws that will effectively end the trade of shark fins.

The state of Washington enacted a shark fin sales ban in May, followed by Oregon in August. Meanwhile, the state of California is considering similar legislation. The bills essentially make it illegal to trade or sell shark fins on the West Coast.

Shark populations, including some endangered species, face enormous pressure from the fishing industry, mainly for their fins, which are used to make the Chinese delicacy shark fin soup.

The West Coast legislation is designed to target the market for imported shark fins in the U.S., which are available for sale despite U.S. laws banning shark finning in national waters.


Legislation to End Seafood Fraud Advances in the U.S.

In June, a key U.S. Senate committee passed legislation supported by Oceana that curtails seafood fraud, the widespread practice of mislabeling seafood, often replacing expensive fish with cheaper options.

The committee’s vote came on the heels of  the launch of Oceana’s new Stop Seafood Fraud campaign and the release of Oceana’s report, “Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health.”

Oceana found that only 2 percent of seafood imported into the United States is inspected, and less than .001 percent is specifically inspected for fraud. The U.S. imports 84 percent of its seafood.

Recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod. This practice cheats consumers as well as undermines conservation measures to protect overfished species. In 2009, the federal government recommended improving measures against seafood fraud.

The Commercial Seafood Consumer Protection Act passed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation directs federal agencies to work more closely together, leading to better coordinated responses on seafood safety, labeling and fraud. It also increases the number of seafood testing labs, allows the U.S. to refuse seafood imports that do not meet federal requirements and provides a system for developing a list of standardized seafood names.


First Marine Protected Area for Seamounts Proposed in Mediterranean

Following campaigning by Oceana, the Spanish government announced its support for a new marine protected area that will encompass seamounts near Mallorca off the coast of Spain.

The new marine protected area will be the first specifically created to protect seamounts in the Mediterranean. Seamounts are underwater mountains that contain vast amounts of important habitat for sea life including deep-sea sponges and corals, marine mammals, sea turtles and fish.

Over several years, the campaigners and scientists aboard Oceana’s research vessel, Ranger, have studied the marine wildlife on these seamounts, documenting pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales and other creatures, including a rare carnivorous sponge and one of the Mediterranean’s last surviving bamboo coral fields. Without sufficient protections, these ecosystems could be destroyed by bottom trawling, a fishing technique that indiscriminately clear-cuts the ocean floor.

The support of the Spanish government for the marine protected area follows support from the local governments of Mallorca and the Balearic Islands. The next step is to win formal designation as a marine protected area.


Spain’s Cabrera National Park to Expand

In June, the Board of Trustees of Spain’s Cabrera National Park voted to expand its marine park based on a recommendation from Oceana. The national park is located in the Balearic Islands, Spain’s popular Mediterranean tourist destination, but is one of the islands’ most remote and rarely-visited outposts. It is home to a wide array of wildlife, including endangered red coral, gorgonians, whales and dolphins.

Under Oceana’s recommendation, the size of the park will increase by tenfold, and will end the use of destructive fishing techniques like bottom trawling. Oceana’s proposal was based on scientific research from the Oceana Ranger’s expeditions to Cabrera and was supported by other conservation groups, including Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund.


Belizeans Speak Up Against Offshore Drilling

In a major triumph in the fight to stop offshore drilling, Oceana gathered enough verified signatures in June to trigger a national referendum to ban offshore oil exploration and drilling in Belize.

Oil companies are preparing to drill off the coast of Belize, including in the Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to thousands of creatures such as dolphins, sea turtles and whale sharks. The reef is also a top draw for visitors to Belize, and tourism is one of the country’s most important sources of revenue.

In collaboration with the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, Oceana conducted a nationwide campaign from the cities to the most remote villages to gather more than 17,000 signatures, which is more than 10 percent of the 165,000 registered voters in the country, and the number needed to prompt a national referendum.

Oceana implemented an independent vetting process, confirming the authenticity of every signature. Oceana will now decide the best time to submit the signatures to the government, which will force a national vote within 90 days.

In the meantime, Oceana continues to get the word out about the importance of voting on referendum day.