Oceana Magazine Summer 2014: Making Waves
Seafood Fraud Legislation Passes California Senate
In May, the California State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1138, authored by Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), which will require that all fish and shellfish sold in California be accurately labeled by common name. Oceana recently conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations in the world, in which Oceana staff and supporters collected more than 1,200 seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues across 21 states to determine if they were accurately labeled. DNA testing revealed that 33 percent of the samples from around the country were mislabeled. California was among the worst states in the nation, with 38 percent of seafood tested in Northern California mislabeled and 52 percent of seafood tested in Southern California mislabeled. Combating seafood fraud will give seafood consumers more confidence in what they are buying and will allow them to choose sustainably fished species. The legislation will next be heard in the State Assembly before it can go to the governor’s desk and be signed into law.
New Quotas Give European Fisheries Time to Recover
Maximum sustainable yield, or MSY, is the maximum level of fish that fishermen can extract from a fish population over the long term. The European Union Fisheries Council adopted catch levels for 2014 that are consistent with Oceana’s goal to have the majority of EU fish stocks managed at or above this optimal level. Now, more than 62 percent of stocks for which a MSY fishing rate is available will be managed consistent with this approach. These quotas will help curb overfishing, allowing European fish populations to rebuild.
Alaskan Cod and Grenadier Protected
Giant grenadiers are large, long-lived fish found in the cold waters off of Alaska. They are killed by the millions in some Alaskan fisheries and are discarded, or thrown back overboard, because they are not valuable enough to sell. Despite these high bycatch rates — bycatch of grenadiers alone would be considered the fifth or sixth largest fishery in the Gulf of Alaska — giant grenadier catches were not subject to management at all. After campaigning by Oceana, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to include grenadiers in a Fishery Management Plan and to protect them as an essential part of the Alaskan marine ecosystem. The protections prohibit direct fishing for grenadiers, require record keeping of grenadiers caught as bycatch, and limit the amount of grenadiers that can be retained as bycatch to 8 percent of a vessel’s catch. This limitation closes a loophole for vessels that might have declared grenadiers as target species, while simultaneously topping off on more valuable species, like sablefish, and then discarding grenadiers.
Offshore Wind Tax Credits Advance
In April, the United States Senate Finance Committee voted to extend the critical investment tax credit (ITC) for domestic offshore wind energy. This credit, will apply to offshore wind projects that begin construction before the end of 2015. Extending the ITC will help energy companies plan successful projects that take advantage of the nation’s vast offshore wind potential. Offshore wind will create hundreds of thousands of long-term jobs for American workers and will help mitigate the effects of global climate change and ocean acidification. The federal government is now holding multiple competitive lease sales along the Atlantic Coast, and projects on the West Coast are moving forward through the regulatory process. And recently, three additional wind projects in Virginia, New Jersey, and Oregon received nearly $50 million each from the Department of Energy.
California Court Upholds State Shark Fin Ban
In March, a United States district court upheld the California shark fin trade ban, a state law forbidding the possession, sale, trade or distribution of shark fins. This ruling was prompted by a group of shark fin dealers and retailers who challenged California’s law in 2013, claiming that the ban was discriminatory and in violation of federal law. The district court ruled against all claims in the suit, including that the 2011 state ban was not pre-empted by federal fisheries law. The judge also noted that, in February 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had already concluded — after extensive campaigning by Oceana to protect state shark fin trade bans in multiple states — that the California ban was consistent with federal law. Before the ban went into effect, California had the largest volume of shark fins imported in the country, and was one of the largest markets for shark fins outside of Asia.
Leatherback Sea Turtles and Sperm Whales Protected from Drift Gillnets
In March, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to halt consideration of proposals to expand the use of drift gillnets into the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area, as well as other critical areas for these endangered sea turtles. Used to target swordfish and thresher sharks in waters off California, drift gillnets entangle and often drown a myriad of marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks, and recreationally important fish. Between May 2007 to January 2013, the drift gillnet fishery discarded 61 percent of all marine animals caught in this gear type. Now the Council is considering cleaning up the fishery by placing hard caps on the numbers of several protected species that can be injured or killed before operations are shut down. In June the Council also set a target to require 100 percent monitoring to account for all catch and bycatch. Although this is major progress, Oceana will continue to push for transitioning to cleaner fishing gears to catch swordfish.