Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless dropped by the Chinese CCTV studios recently to talk China, responsible fisheries management and how it could bring the world's oceans back to a state of abundance in just 5 years. As he points out, 11% of world's ocean fish are caught in Chinese waters.
"I think this is the world's biggest conservation problem that we can fix. It's a source of food that the planet needs to manage and can be turned around very rapidly. So for me it's a really exciting problem because it's fixable."
As Andy says, restoring the oceans will take three steps: setting and enforcing scientific quotas, protecting habitat and reducing bycatch, the accidental killing of non-targeted species. Every year more than 16 billion pounds of fish are caught and thrown away as bycatch.
Check out the video!
Editor's note: A new study from researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Washington shows that most of the world's fisheries are overexploited but could be improved considerably through conservation measures. The following is Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless' response to that study.
"This study finally lays to rest the question of whether or not the world’s fisheries are in crisis – they are. As the authors report, more than half of the world’s fisheries are in decline. And as they point out, worst hit are small scale fisheries which are critical for feeding hungry people all around the world.
We believe that this report provides a clear call to action. We need to quickly put in place responsible management measures in the countries that control most of the world’s wild seafood. As the study finds, putting in place these measures would allow depleted stocks to recover to sustainable levels and could result in future catches that are up to 40 percent larger than are predicted if current unsustainable fishing practices continue.
We know from past experience all around the world – including in the “assessed fisheries” described by the authors – that putting in place better fisheries management allows fisheries to rebound. And we agree with the authors’ prescription for these measures – science based quotas and habitat protection. We do believe that they (and the world’s fishery managers) should place a great emphasis on reducing bycatch which is critical to the future of our wild fish stocks.
One other critical point not covered in this study is that putting in place these management measures does not take an international treaty. Just 25 countries control 75% of the world’s fish catch and can – through their own legal systems – put in place the policies that can allow fisheries to recover.
The world has a moral obligation to act on the findings of this study as it would enable the sea to feed 400 million hungry people living in major fishing nations and would help offset the projected dramatic increase in demand for protein from a world population that is forecasted to rise to 9 billion people by 2050."
It turns out many consumers have been getting soaked paying too much for scallops artificially plumped with excess water. According to a Boston Globe investigation seafood processors routinely load up the shellfish meat, which can sell for as much as $15 a pound, with water.
While scallop meat (that delicious adductor muscle that makes the animal surprisingly mobile) naturally retains about 75% water, samples taken from major chains like Trader Joe's, Target and Walmart were up to 91% water.
How they do they squeeze in all that excess water? The answer is less than appetizing. Seafood processors often resort to treating the meat with sodium tripolyphosphate and other chemical additives which boosts water retention.
As the article notes, its nearly impossible for consumers to know whether they're getting their money's worth at the register:
"There are some signs that suggest scallops may have been treated: Excess water leaches out when cooked, discolorations can appear on seafood, and the shellfish do not sear as well as they should. But it’s essentially impossible to detect when scallops are in a package or behind the seafood counter."
As Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell is quoted as saying in the article, “Businesses are advertising wild-caught, naturally raised seafood that has really been treated and consumers are being misled and paying for water they shouldn’t."
Oceana is leading the fight against seafood fraud. Mislabeled seafood can have dire consequences for at-risk species and make it difficult for seafood lovers to make eco-friendly choices about what they're eating. But this latest episode of seafood fraud shows that the consumer loses out as well when the industry is less than honest about the product it puts out.
It's been a leatherback-heavy news week and for all the right reasons. First a dramatic leatherback sea turtle rescue off of Cape Cod grabbed headlines over the weekend and then yesterday California governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill designating the Pacific leatherback as the state's marine reptile.
The law designates October 15, 2013 as the first annual Leatherback Conservation Day, during which California schools will be encouraged to teach students about this prehistoric sea turtle species, which makes a heroic 6,000 mile journey from Indonesia to the California coast to feed on jellyfish. The species, which is the largest turtle on Earth, has been decimated in recent decades, its population numbers plummeting as much as 95% due to bycatch by industrial fishing drift nets and longlines, poaching and plastic pollution (leatherbacks often mistake plastic bags for their favorite prey, jellyfish).
“By recognizing the Pacific leatherback as the newest state symbol, Governor Brown continues California’s leadership in ocean conservation,” said Ashley Blacow, Oceana’s Pacific Policy and Communications Coordinator. “Pacific leatherbacks are on the brink of extinction, and public awareness is a key ingredient to turning the tide for these ancient marine reptiles.”
Help Oceana make everyday Leatherback Conservation Day!
Over the past week, the New England Aquarium pulled off the dramatic rescue, rehabilitation and release of a 655-pound, 7-foot leatherback sea turtle which had stranded on Cape Cod (as seen in the video above). The prehistoric-looking reptile was found suffering from dehydration and shock with a significant portion of its left-front flipper missing, an injury the Aquarium said was consistent with entanglement in fishing gear, a sadly common occurrence with these severely threatened animals.
Leatherbacks are long-distance swimmers, using their giant paddle-like flippers to propel them over vast distances. This turtle from the Western Atlantic population travels all the way from the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean to the jellyfish-rich waters of New England each year, and may even swim as far north as Newfoundland. After a weekend being nursed back to health by aquarium staff, this beleaguered leatherback, which veterinarians estimated to be around 25 to 30 years old, was released off of Cape Cod on Sunday.
If the turtle survives, it will be a cheerful chapter in an increasingly desperate story about a species that has survived for a hundred million years but faces extinction in the coming decades. As many as 2,300 leatherbacks may have died at the hands of commercial fishing activities each year throughout the 1990s. Aside from entanglement in fishing gear, many turtles also face threats from poaching and countless die from ingesting plastic. Leatherbacks, whose throats are lined with backward-pointing spines to prevent swallowed jellyfish from escaping, are especially vulnerable to choking on plastic bags, which they mistake for their favorite prey.
But there is hope for the leatherback sea turtle. In 2007, Oceana petitioned the federal government to designate critical habitat for off the U.S. West Coast, where Pacific populations have plummeted by as much as 80% in recent decades. In response, earlier this year, The National Marine Fisheries Service finalized protection of almost 42,000 square miles of protected ocean habitat off the shores of Washington, Oregon and California for the endangered turtle. Turtles arrive in these areas each year after swimming as far as 6,000 miles across the open ocean from nests in Indonesia. This is the first permanent safe haven designated for leatherbacks in U.S. waters. The National Marine Fisheries Service has yet to designate similar critical habitat for loggerhead turtles in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans even though they are required by law to do so.
Help Oceana continue to fight for this incredible animal, the largest turtle and one of the largest living reptiles on Earth.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center has announced that Arctic sea ice melted to its yearly minimum extent last Sunday, which was the smallest extent since measurements began in 1979 and a whopping 49% below the 1979 to 2000 average. With ice vanishing at rates that exceed even the most sophisticated computer models there is one guarantee, that it’s going to shrink even more
We know Arctic sea ice will continue to shrink for two reasons. First, we are continuing to spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And second, solar radiation and melting sea ice interact as a system known as a positive feedback loop. Sunlight that hits white arctic sea ice is largely reflected back to space. Throughout modern civilization Arctic sea ice has acted as a sort of thermostat, regulating the earth’s temperature. But as the climate warms, and the Arctic ice melts, the sunlight instead hits much darker seawater. Rather than reflecting that energy back to space, open-ocean waters absorb vastly more of the sun’s energy, which in turn warms the water, accelerating the rate of melt.
Bycatch is a word that is thrown around a lot in the fishing industry, but when a trawler is throwing away half the fish it catches, somehow “bycatch” doesn’t seem to adequately capture the scope of the problem. It’s that sort of scale of waste that is described in a troubling new report by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The report claims that 156 million pounds of fish were discarded by fishing ships in the Northeast last year.
“156 million pounds of bycatch in the Northeast equals jobs lost and meals wasted,” said Gib Brogan, Northeast representative at Oceana. “What is bycatch to one fishery is often targeted catch to another. Take skates for example, which are a common bycatch species in the lucrative scallop fishery. Nearly 75 percent of the 101 million pounds of skates that were caught were discarded while New England skate fishermen struggle to increase their quotas.”
Amazingly, the NMFS report also found that no information is being collected about bycatch in more than half of the fishing fleets from North Carolina to Maine.
And fishermen are often the first to feel the effects of these reckless practices. Last week the fisheries of the Northeast U.S. were declared a disaster by the federal government and crashes in the region’s storied cod, haddock and flounder fisheries have led regulators to impose drastic cuts for 2013. What got us here? Insufficient data about bycatch which led to inaccurate fish stock assessments. While regulators waited for the fisheries to rebuild, the silent and unaccounted for catch of millions of pounds of discarded fish had been gutting stocks to unsustainable levels.
Oceana works tirelessly advocating for the reduction of bycatch. Only by counting every fish, and by setting catch limits at sustainable levels can we ensure the future of our fisheries.
After a disastrous few weeks that saw drilling shut down in the Arctic due to unpredictable ice floes, and then the failure of its oil containment dome during testing, Shell has decided to scale back plans for drilling in the Chukchi Sea North of Alaska this season. Instead it will drill only “top holes” rather than all the way down into oil-bearing zones.
Oceana is relieved by the development which only points to the inherent difficulty, and danger, of drilling for oil in such an inhospitable environment:
“Today Shell announced yet another last minute change of plans for this summer’s drilling season due to new problems with its oil spill containment equipment,” said Oceana Senior Pacific Director Susan Murray. “Oceana is just glad this didn’t happen during a real oil spill. This series of blunders inspires anything but confidence in the oil industry’s ability to safely drill in the Arctic. Shell’s repeated backtracking, last minute requests for permit and plan changes, and their inability to successfully complete preparations has resulted in mishaps that brings to mind the keystone cops rather than a company that is prepared and ready to work safely . . . If Shell has proved one thing this summer it is that the oil industry is not ready to drill in the Arctic.”
Besides failing tests on its oil containment dome and its ability to contain an oil spill, Shell also has had trouble this summer anchoring its drillship, the Noble Discoverer, and has been unable to upgrade its oil spill recovery barge, a formerly derelict ship called the Arctic Challenger, to Coast Guard standards.
In this gorgeous new Oceana video Alexandra Cousteau delves into Monterey Bay to illuminate the diversity of life at the bottom of the ocean, a crucial habitat that is under the constant threat of obliteration from bottom trawling. Using an ROV the camera captures an otherworldly scene, as scallops flutter by and curlicued basket stars unfurl. Armies of shrimp and brittle stars scamper by, fed by the organic matter from above that drifts down the water column like snowfall, sustaining a remarkably rich community. In shallower waters, coral gardens that take hundreds of years to blossom shelter rockfish and ingeniously disguised crabs, and serve as a nursery for dozens of species of fish. Here octopuses go camouflage against the rocky shale, out of sight of the hungry sperm whales and sea lions from above. Anemone-covered spires upwell nutrient rich waters that feed shoals of krill, which in turn feed blue whales. It is an intricately connected ecosystem and it can be destroyed in an instant by bottom trawling. That’s why Oceana has pushed for an end to bottom trawling in ecologically sensitive areas. And that work has paid off in concrete victories: in 2006 NOAA protected 140,000 square miles of Pacific seafloor from the destructive practice, but more needs to be done. For the most part this world goes unseen by human eyes and it’s why Oceana is working laboriously to document these precious areas before they disappear.
After just one day of drilling in the Arctic, ice floes forced Shell to halt its operations in the Chukchi Sea. The problems point to the inherent danger in drilling for oil in such an unforgiving landscape. While oil spills occur nearly every day in the Gulf of Mexico, high winds, waves, fog and unpredictable ice floes promise to make drilling in the Arctic even more fraught with hazard.
Following last week’s approval by the Department of the Interior, Shell began drilling its first exploration well off the coast of Northern Alaska on Sunday, but abruptly stopped on Monday as the ice closed in.
In August, Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless condemned Shell’s push into the far North.
“There is no price tag on the Arctic,” he said. “No matter how much money the company spends or how many vessels it mobilizes, Shell should not be allowed put the Arctic Ocean at risk.”
Meanwhile, Shell has been wrangling with the Coast Guard to approve an oil-spill containment barge for the site, the Arctic Challenger, a long-neglected hulk that had become Caspian Tern habitat moored off the West coast for decades.
With ice cover retreating to historic lows, Shell has been at the forefront in pushing forward with plans to exploit the Arctic. But, even in light of the BP disaster, little progress has been made in the way of offshore drilling safety, as outlined in an Oceana report issued earlier this year.
And, as that report also noted, frigid temperatures, months of continuous darkness and a lack of infrastructure in northern Alaska would make any response to an Arctic oil spill especially difficult.
This summer Shell also received a green light from the government to harass marine mammals, such as bowhead whales and walrus, as it pushed forward with the disruptive activity that inevitably accompanies oil exploration, such as noise, air and water pollution from ice-breaking and drill ships.