Yesterday, the Delaware House of Representatives took a huge step forward for shark conservation efforts worldwide when they passed a bill that would prohibit the trade of shark fins within their state borders. House Bill 41 bans the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins, which are commonly used in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup. Demand for these products drives the harmful and wasteful practice of shark finning, which is responsible for the deaths of millions of sharks every year and the depletion of populations worldwide.
Now that the dust has settled from the national elections, many of us in the fisheries world are turning our attention to the new session of Congress and what it means for the issues we care about.
Ocean issues rarely occupy a spot in the national conversation, and this year was no different. And given that the party makeup of both the House and Senate remains largely unchanged, we can expect much of the same posturing and gridlock we have seen in recent years.
Nevertheless, there are a few personnel changes – and the potential reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the law that governs our nation’s fisheries policy – that will have some consequence on these issues, for better or worse.
The Senate took an important step forward last month in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, also known as pirate fishing, by passing the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (S. 1980) through the Commerce Committee.
The bill implements the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (Agreement), which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted in November 2009 and, if ratified, would be the first binding international agreement to specifically combat illegal fishing. The bipartisan bill easily passed the committee and now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.
Pirate fishing is a serious problem that threatens the oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers alike. Pirate fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching threatened or endangered species. Because this fishing goes unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess its true impact on our oceans.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that pirate fishing leads to global economic losses between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for up to 40 percent of the catch in certain fisheries. One of the easiest ways to address this problem is to close our ports to illegal fishing vessels and help ensure that illegal fish are kept out of our markets.
The bill would accomplish these goals by establishing specific requirements for port entry. In particular, it specifies minimum standards for dockside inspections, requires that nations designate specific ports to which foreign vessels may seek entry and requires that nations share information about violators. If any vessel is known to have or is suspected of pirate fishing, a nation must deny that vessel port entry. The bill also expressly makes the mislabeling and misidentification of fish or fish products illegal.
S. 1980 is a good first step toward addressing illegal fishing, and Oceana commends the Senate Commerce Committee for moving it forward. While Congress is now in recess until September, we hope that both the House and Senate will use the short legislative session in the fall to move this important bill to finally give the U.S. the tools it needs to fight pirate fishing and ensure that illegally-caught fish do not enter our market.
In a hearing yesterday in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs, administration officials and fishing industry representatives expressed support for a bill that would strengthen the U.S.’s ability to address the growing global problem of illegal fishing.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing – also known as pirate fishing – is a serious problem that threatens the oceans, honest fishermen, and seafood consumers alike. With bipartisan support led by sponsors Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and Congressman Frank Guinta (R, NH-1), the bill demonstrates that pirate fishing is an issue not defined by state or by party. It is encouraging to see Congress get serious about addressing this challenge.
The legislation, the “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act” (H.R. 4100), would provide the U.S. with critical tools to better monitor and track pirate fishing vessels, enforce penalties against those vessels, help prevent illegal product from entering the U.S. market, and protect endangered or threatened species from further depletion. The bill is the companion to S. 52 in the Senate, which was introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last May.
“Fishing communities are the lifeblood of Guam, [the Northern Mariana Islands] and other islands in the Pacific… so protecting our fishermen from illegal fishing enhances economic opportunities and protects cultural and natural resources that our communities rely upon,” said Congresswoman Bordallo. “My bill increases capacity for inspection, identification and monitoring of illegal foreign vessels, amends several international agreements to incorporate civil and criminal penalties, and also broadens data-sharing authority with foreign governments in order to identify and penalize nations that do not comply with fisheries management regulations.”
Pirate fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching threatened or endangered species. Because this fishing goes unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess its true impact on our oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that pirate fishing leads to global economic losses between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for up to 40% of the catch in certain fisheries.
Rumor has it that the Senate is looking to act on its bill, S. 52, before the end of the year. We hope the House will move H.R. 4100 to the floor soon as well. Last fall, the Obama Administration announced that it was stepping up efforts to crack down on pirate fishing by entering into a joint agreement with the European Union to coordinate efforts. Yet the U.S. currently lacks the necessary enforcement measures to give the agreement teeth. This legislation would provide the U.S. with these tools, strengthening existing fisheries laws and adding new provisions to deter illicit activities.
We commend the House Natural Resources Committee for holding this hearing and putting the spotlight on this issue, and hope that the Committee will take up the bill soon for a vote. This legislation takes an important step forward in the effort to protect our oceans from overexploitation, ensure that law-abiding fishermen compete on a level playing field, and protect consumers who want to make responsible choices when buying seafood.
Yet another victory today, if you can believe it. In a last minute vote, the U.S. Senate passed the Shark Conservation Act, which will end shark finning in U.S. waters.
Each year, commercial fishing gear kills more than 100 million sharks worldwide – including tens of millions for just their fins, for use in shark fin soup. Landing sharks with their fins still attached allows for better enforcement and data collection for stock assessments and quota monitoring.
The Shark Conservation Act improves the existing law originally intended to prevent shark finning, and it also allows the U.S. to take action against countries whose shark finning restrictions are not as strenuous. The passage of this bill signals the U.S.’s ongoing commitment to shark conservation.
Only one step stands in the way of this bill becoming law -- it returns to the House for one final vote to accept the Senate’s version of the legislation. We’re almost there…
Thanks to all of you who helped us -- and the sharks -- get this far!
Today, Congress returns from elections to wrap up its work for this session, which means that time is running out for the Senate to pass any legislation in response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The House of Representatives already passed their version of a spill response bill back in July, and now it is the Senate’s turn to act.
The Gulf of Mexico needs help, and it needed it yesterday. Of course, the only way to prevent another catastrophe like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is to ban new offshore oil and gas drilling. In the meantime, the least we can do is pass a bill to clean up and restore the devastation that the oil industry has inflicted upon our oceans and coasts.
For those of us who had been holding out hope for a comprehensive bill that would curb U.S. climate emissions and promote renewable energy, disappointment and frustration have officially set in.
The Senate has scrapped plans for an attempt to push through a climate bill this summer.
This is especially disturbing because the proposals being considered were designed to meet the industry halfway by using market-based solutions that allow companies to reduce emissions in the way that they believe is most cost-effective. This approach diverges from the approaches used before in the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, for example. But industry still shot it down.
Sadly, this is a classic example of “political reality” versus “real reality”.