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Oceana Magazine Winter 2011: Making Waves

Illegal driftnets curtailed in the Mediterranean Sea

This summer, Oceana made great strides in its campaign to eliminate illegal driftnets from the Mediterranean Sea. The nets have been banned by both the United Nations and the European Union for years, but many vessels have continued using them. Thousands of marine creatures, including whales, dolphins, sharks and sea turtles are trapped and killed by this indiscriminate fishing gear each year.

In June, Italian fishermen from the port of Bagnara Calabra surrendered their illegal nets after a nearly year-long blockade of the port by the Italian Coast Guard. In August, Oceana inspected ports in southern Italy and Sicily and confirmed that fewer boats used the driftnets.

In another victory for ocean conservation, Morocco passed an amendment in August banning the use, possession, manufacture or sale of driftnets starting in 2011. With 300 vessels using driftnets, Morocco has been one of the most notorious users of the wasteful gear in the Mediterranean.

A month later, Turkey followed suit, announcing it would stop using the destructive fishing gear in 2011. In 2009, Oceana identified at least 30 Turkish vessels using driftnets in the Aegean and Mediterranean to target swordfish and albacore, and there are an estimated 70 to 150 vessels operating in the country.

These three decisions bring Oceana closer to the goal of eliminating driftnets from the Mediterranean by 2013.

 

Belize issues a total ban on destructive trawling

In December, the Central American nation of Belize announced a ban on all forms of trawling, one of the most destructive fishing methods in the world. With the decision, Belize joined just a few countries in the world which have completely protected their waters from bottom trawling.

Oceana has now helped protect 1.4 million square miles of the oceans from trawling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic as part of a global campaign against destructive fishing.

The historic decision protects Belize’s section of the Mesoamerican Reef, the largest coral reef system in the western hemisphere and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Trawlers are notorious for indiscriminately killing marine life, including sea turtles, marine mammals and untargeted fish species. Bottom trawlers, which drag weighted nets on the seafloor, destroy coral reefs in an instant.

In addition to its ecological importance, the Mesoamerican Reef has incalculable value to Belize’s tourism industry and culture. Home to some of the Atlantic Ocean’s only atolls, it is one of the most popular diving sites in the world.

The ban was made possible by Oceana's campaigners in Belize, who opened Oceana’s office there one year ago. Led by Oceana’s vice president for Belize, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Oceana worked with Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the Northern Fishermen Cooperative to protect the reef, its marine inhabitants and its contribution to Belize's heritage.

 

Europe protects thresher and hammerhead sharks

In a groundbreaking move proposed by the European Commission, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission became the first regional fisheries organization to protect three species of thresher sharks. The European Commission is advocating a complete ban in the European Union on catching and killing thresher and hammerhead sharks.

Oceana’s report ,“The Race for Threatened Sharks,” underscores the need for shark conservation. The report states that while 21 percent of the world’s shark species are threatened by extinction, European Union shark fisheries have been entirely unmanaged until a few years ago.

 

Jack mackerel saved from overfishing in Chile

Jack mackerel, the most important commercial seafood fishery in Chile and a main source of fish meal for Chile’s large salmon farming industry, has been protected from overfishing after an investigation by Oceana revealed that the government was ignoring its own scientists’ recommendations.

The Chilean government announced a drastic reduction in the fishing quota for jack mackerel and other fisheries starting in 2011. The decision came after Oceana sent the Ministery of Economic Development and Tourism a report analyzing the annual quota set for jack mackerel during the past 10 years.

The study, using data that Oceana obtained through Chile’s Freedom of Information Act, shows that between 2003 and 2010 the National Fisheries Council set the annual quota for jack mackerel at much higher catch limits than were recommended by the Institute for Fisheries Development. In fact, in 2009 the quota was 87 percent higher than recommended by the agency.

 

Sharks, sea turtles win international protections

At the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in November, vulnerable sharks and sea turtles won much-needed protections.

ICCAT banned all fishing for oceanic whitetip sharks in the Atlantic Ocean. These sharks, one of the great predators of the sea, are often targeted for their fins. As a result, their numbers have plummeted by 99 percent in some areas.

ICCAT also prohibited possession or sale of hammerhead sharks caught in ICCAT fisheries. Like oceanic whitetips, hammerhead shark populations have dropped dramatically under intense fishing pressure.

Lastly, ICCAT began the process of protecting shortfin mako sharks, one of the world’s fastest-swimming shark species.  The Commission now has a hammer to make countries submit catch data on shortfin makos – if they’re not submitting data by 2013, they can’t fish for the species.

During the ICCAT meeting, Oceana presented a report conservatively estimating that more than 1.3 million highly migratory sharks were caught in the Atlantic Ocean in 2008 without any international fisheries management. The report also showed that of the 21 highly migratory shark species reported caught in ICCAT waters, three-quarters are classified as threatened by extinction in parts of the Atlantic Ocean, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Sea turtles also won protections with a Commission decision that includes requirements to use hook-removal and fishing line disentanglement gear. The new measures also require reporting on sea turtle catches in ICCAT fisheries as well as initiate a process to assess the harm caused to sea turtles by ICCAT fisheries and establish further protective measures in the future. Up to 350,000 sea turtles are accidentally caught by longline fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea every year.