Our team in Chile sent us this stunning picture today from just offshore of Robinson Crusoe Island, part of the remote Juan Fernandez archipelago 400 miles West of mainland Chile. In 1704 Scottish castaway Alexander Selkirk became marooned on the island, serving as the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's fictional Robinson Crusoe character (100 miles west is an another island, Alexander Selkirk Island, named in his honor).
The discovery came as a surprise to our Chilean team as dolphins are somewhat rare to the Juan Fernandez Islands. But marine life is not rare on this volcanic chain of seamounts, where nutrient rich water from the deep comes to the surface, powering a profusion of life.
Last month the Chilean senate voted to ban bottom trawling on all 118 of the country's seamounts, after years of advocacy by Oceana, a move that comes as a special relief to Juan Fernandez and its vulnerable marine inhabitants.
Learn more about about Oceana's work in South America.
A report out this week, “Resources Futures” by the venerable U.K. NGO, the Chatham House, issues a clarion call for wiser management of the world’s finite resources. In the face of a more crowded planet in the coming century, as billions aspire to a resource-intensive western lifestyle, pressure on the world’s food systems and its reserves of raw materials could become more acute.
This is especially true for the world’s fisheries and the report singles out practices, like unnecessarily generous subsidies for fishing fleets and the wide-scale waste of discarded fish as adding to the global decline of fish stocks. Interestingly, the report also asserts that overfishing poses not only a major threat to food security, but to broader world security as well. The authors write:
“Given the importance of fishing to livelihoods in many poor and rural areas, over-fishing can have other effects on security. Analysts have linked the rise of piracy off the Horn of Africa in recent years, for example, with the inability of the Somali state to prevent the overfishing of Somali waters by European, Asian and African ships. The reduction in fish stocks essentially raises the cost of legitimate livelihood. As one account puts it, ‘in a region where legitimate business is difficult, where drought means agriculture is nothing more than subsistence farming, and instability and violence make death a very real prospect, the dangers of piracy must be weighed against the potentially massive returns.’ Some pirates have even used this as a justification for their actions, arguing that they are protecting their resources and that ransom payments should be seen as a form of legitimate taxation. Overfishing also played an important role in the development of piracy in Southeast Asia.”
The report focused on fish that was purchased in the New York City area and subjected to DNA testing. That testing revealed, among other startling findings, that 79 percent of red snapper served in New York City restaurants and grocery stores was replaced with less expensive fish, like tilefish. The FDA warns pregnant women and young children to avoid tilefish altogether because of its high mercury content.
Similarly 94% of white tuna served at sushi restaurants was in fact escolar, a fish whose high levels of wax esthers can potentially cause diarrhea in diners.
Meanwhile the New York Times detailed Oceana's report in its Tuesday Science section, in the article "Tests Say Mislabeled Fish is a Widespread Problem":
The findings are broadly similar to those of studies Oceana has conducted in Los Angeles, Boston and Miami, where 55, 48 and 31 percent of samples, respectively, were mislabeled.
One finding that surprised the research team was that national chain supermarkets offered less mislabeled seafood than regional chains or small specialty markets. High prices were no guarantee of accurate labeling: one restaurant in the highest price range offered red snapper on its menu but, according to Oceana, was serving up lowly tilapia.
Learn more about seafood fraud and what Oceana is doing to fight it.
An article in today's New York Times science section details an effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to map the effects of human-generated noise in the ocean. Whether it's the drone of commercial shipping or the deafening blasts of seismic air guns, sounds that can travel for hundreds of miles, this noise has been on the rise for decades. For animals that depend on sound as their primary means for communicating or finding prey, this increasingly cacaphonous environment can have devastating consequences
The article articulates well the dangers posed to the ocean's inhabitants by an increasingly noisy ocean:
Sea mammals evolved sharp hearing to take advantage of sound’s reach and to compensate for poor visibility. The heads of whales and dolphins are mazes of resonant chambers and acoustic lenses that give the animals not only extraordinary hearing but complex voices they use to communicate.
In recent decades, humans have added raucous clatter to the primal chorus. Mr. Bahtiarian noted that the noise of a typical cargo vessel could rival that of a jet. Even louder, he added, are air guns fired near the surface from ships used in oil and gas exploration. Their waves radiate downward and penetrate deep into the seabed, helping oil companies locate hidden pockets of hydrocarbons.
Marine biologists have linked the human noises to reductions in mammalian vocalization, which suggests declines in foraging and breeding.
The sorts of air gun tests described above are currently being proposed for waters spanning from Delaware to Florida to search for oil and gas deposits. The Department of the Interior which is reviewing the proposal and will issue its decision sometime next year, estimates that those tests would injure 138,500 whales and dolphins.
In this case “injuring” often means literally deafening the animals. For whales and dolphins that use sound as the primary means to find mates, find food, and communicate, such as the North Atlantic right whale (of which there are an estimated 361 left on the planet) going deaf is equivalent to a death sentence.
The tests could also wreak havoc on the area's $12 billion fishing industry. Similar tests elsewhere have resulted in drops in catches of cod and haddock from 40 to 80 percent after the use of just a single airgun array.
Today Oceana released a new report documenting the problem of widespread seafood fraud in the New York City area. A full 39 percent of seafood sold in New York City grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues was found to be mislabeled.
Out of 142 samples Oceana conducted DNA testing on, from 81 separate businesses, 56 were found to be different species than advertised. Oftentimes cheaper fish was swapped in for more expensive species, but seafood fraud can be an issue of consumer safety as well, as discussed in the above segment aired on the NBC's Today Show this morning covering Oceana's report.
The report's key findings were:
The fraud could even lead consumers to unknowingly violate religious dietary restrictions, such as when kosher fish like albacore or pacific cod are replaced by non-kosher fish, like escolar and sutchi catfish, respectively.
“Everywhere we look, we find seafood fraud, and New York City is no exception,” said Beth Lowell, campaign director at Oceana. “Seafood fraud is a national problem that requires national attention. Traceability, tracking fish from boat to plate, will ensure that seafood is safe, legal and honestly labeled while preventing consumers from getting ripped off. ”
Elsewhere Oceana and others have found similar levels of fraud: in Boston 48 percent of seafood was mislabeled, in Los Angeles that figure reached 55 percent and in Miami 31 percent. Oceana is urging congress to pass the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act, H.R. 6200, introduced this summer by Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA), Barney Frank (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC). The Bill would require full traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S.
After the Chilean senate voted last month to ban bottom trawling on all 118 of its seamounts, after years of advocacy by Oceana, we thought it was an appropriate time to remind our supporters just what we've been fighting to protect.
Above is video shot by Oceana in 2011 off of the uninhabited Alexander Selkirk Island in the remote Juan Fernandez Island chain 400 miles off of Chile. The island, named for an 18th century shipwreck survivor who likely inspired Robinson Crusoe, is part of a volcanic archipelago surrounded by seamounts, or underwater mountain ranges that support a staggering variety of marine life.
Until now the Juan Fernandez archipelago was open to bottom trawling, an extremely destructive method of fishing which reduces the sort of complex habitat seen in this video to the appearance of "ploughed fields" according to a recent study in the journal Nature.
Oceana, along with our partners at National Geographic, have made a number of visits to the area in recent years to document this previously unseen abundance of life, and was instrumental in Chile's recent vote to close these wonders to the ravages of bottom trawling.
A year after Boston Globe investigative reporters revealed that the fish on the menu at many Massachusetts restaurants often had little relation to what ended up on the plate, they went back for seconds. As it turns out many of the same restaurants originally cited for selling mislabeled fish are still up to their old tricks.
Cheaper tilapia was often marked up and sold as more expensive red snapper or albacore. Frozen Pacific cod was similarly marked up and sold as fresh, more expensive Atlantic cod. Not only is the consumer cheated in such instances, but there remains the very real concern about food safety.
As the Globe article notes:
“Much of the substitution occurs with imported fish, which now makes up about 91 percent of the seafood Americans consume. Disease outbreaks linked to imported fish have increased in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it more urgent to better regulate the supply chain.”
One of the more common substitutions cited in the article is that of escolar masquerading as white tuna. Escolar has earned the unfortunate moniker “the ex-lax fish” due to the rather unpleasant gastrointestinal effects associated with its consumption.
Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell was quoted in the article decrying the practice.
“The public should be frustrated. How can we trust the food we eat when we can’t even trust basic information on the label or a menu?”
Oceana senior vice president for North America and chief scientist Mike Hirshfield recently sat down with 20/20 to discuss the widespread problem of seafood fraud, telling ABC:
“I would be astonished if anyone buying white tuna or super white tuna at a sushi restaurant got anything other than escolar.”
If you care about what ends up on your plate sign our petition.
Our friends at the Pew Environment Group put together this extremely helpful graph that goes a long way in explaining just why taking sharks out of the ocean by the millions is a bad idea. It turns out that sharks' biological life history much more closely resembles that of marine mammals - and even grizzly bears - than that of their fishy cousins.
While some fish like swordfish and mackerel are able to reach maturity quickly and spawn by the millions several times a year, making them more resilient to higher catch rates, sharks are slow-growing, late-maturing and give birth to small litters of live young. Some sharks, like the Atlantic Ocean's dusky shark, do not mature until as late as 21 years of age and give birth to as few as three pups every three years.
A female shark that produced 10 pups every two years for 20 years would add only about 100 individuals to the population. In contrast, a female swordfish could theoretically contribute millions of offspring, and it is possible that thousands of these could survive if natural mortality from predators, disease, or starvation was low.
Every year, 70 million sharks are taken from the ocean, a rate far higher than these vulnerable creatures are able to withstand. They've been around for almost a half-billion years but now face severe threats. While the Asian appetite for shark fin soup fuels much of the shark trade, other products, from shark liver oil dietary supplements to squalene-based beauty products contribute to their dwindling populations.
Learn more about sharks and what Oceana is doing to ensure their survival.
It has been a whirlwind few weeks in Chile, where Oceana’s hard work has paid off in some monumental policy victories.
Last week the Chilean senate passed sweeping new fisheries regulations that, simply put, place the health of the oceans ahead of the short-term interests of the fishing industry.
After being proposed by Oceana in 2009, the Chilean senate agreed last week to close all 118 of Chile’s seamounts to bottom trawling. Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges where nutrient-rich water upwells from the deep, fueling a staggering array of biodiversity. The greatest beneficiary of these new measures will be marine life, especially that of the volcanic Juan Fernandez Islands, a remote archipelago and a regular haunt of bottom trawlers.
The new laws will also impose science-based fishing quotas and drastically reduce the incidental capture and discarding of unwanted species, known as bycatch. To do this, the new laws require improved monitoring on Chilean fishing vessels. For the bottom fishing fleet, this means that 100% of ships will require on-board observers to collect information about vulnerable marine ecosystems.
These changes would not have happened without Oceana and during the passage of this historic legislation several senators as well as the Chilean Minister of the Economy singled out our organization for special commendation.
As our executive director of Oceana in Chile, Alex Muñoz, said: “Protecting the seafloor from destructive activities, such as bottom trawling, especially in seamounts and other vulnerable marine ecosystems, is a fundamental measure for responsible fishing.”
All this comes just after President Sebastian Pinera announced he would seek to expand the Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park off of Easter Island. No larger than Washington D.C., Easter Island is the world’s most remote inhabited island on the planet—known chiefly to the rest of the world as the home of those inscrutable, stone-faced megaliths, the moai.
But the waters surrounding Easter Island hold treasures as well. Just over 200 miles to the northeast is Sala y Gómez, a desolate volcanic island - the rare mountaintop that pokes above the surface in a range of underwater seamounts. In 2010, after an expedition by Oceana and National Geographic uncovered thriving communities of red corals, Galapagos sharks, butterfly fish and more, President Piñera declared the 58,000 square miles of water surrounding Sala y Gomez a marine park, closed to commercial fishing.
Now, the president has announced that Chile will seek to expand that park to include the range of seamounts that link Sala y Gómez to Easter Island. The president and the government of Chile will next consult with the people of Easter Island, the Rapa Nui, and ask them to endorse this plan.
We have been advocating for the protection of these special places for years and, thanks to your support, future generations will be able to partake of their beauty and diversity.
You might have missed it, but over Thanksgiving Oceana won some major victories. One that we are especially excited about was the vote by the European Parliament to impose a strict ban on shark finning. While this ban has technically been in place since 2003 the new vote closes a crucial loophole by requiring all vessels in EU waters, as well as all EU vessels around the world, to bring their sharks to shore fins attached.
This is a major victory for Oceana, which has been pushing for the strict ban for years. It is also an especially big victory for sharks. The EU is the largest exporter of shark fins to China and Hong Kong in the world. Fishing the Atlantic, Indian, Mediterranean, and Pacific Oceans it has become the world’s top fisher of sharks.
The practice of shark finning is just as brutal as it sounds. Once captured, a shark is brought on board and its fins are sliced off. The finless shark is then discarded in the ocean, where it is left to struggle and die. Up to 70 million sharks are killed every year, mostly to serve the market for the Chinese status symbol delicacy, shark-fin soup. Sharks are slow-growing, late-maturing, long-lived and give birth to few young, making them unable to cope with such high levels of exploitation.
By requiring the sharks to be brought on board fins attached fishermen are unable to stockpile huge numbers of fins in their holds and the number of sharks that can be killed on any one trip is dramatically curtailed.