New dredge gear to save sea turtles
In September, the New England Fishery Management Council approved a new rule to require modified fishing gear to protect sea turtles in the Atlantic scallop fishery.
All six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are threatened or endangered with extinction. Loggerheads are often injured or killed by scallop dredges, which drag along the sea floor and can drown or crush the turtles. Kemp’s ridleys, the rarest species of sea turtle, and green sea turtles are also caught and sometimes killed by the scallop dredges.
The new gear, called a turtle deflector dredge, pushes sea turtles out of harm’s way. The government estimates that the devices will reduce the number of sea turtles killed by dredges by more than half. The rule, which will require the devices from May 1 to October 31 in the entire Mid-Atlantic region, must now be approved by the federal government. It could go into effect as early as March 2012.
Florida protects threatened sharks
In November, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to fully protect tiger sharks and three species of hammerhead sharks: scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads from commercial fishing in all state waters. Recreational catch and release fishing can continue.
The protections are critical to saving the sharks, which have faced drastic population declines. Tiger sharks numbers have dropped by up to 97 percent in U.S. Atlantic waters, and the three species of hammerheads have declined by about 70 percent in the northwest Atlantic.
Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year for shark fin soup, a Chinese traditional dish, contributing to population declines around the world. Florida’s decision to protect tiger and hammerhead sharks continues a recent trend in shark conservation, with all U.S. West Coast states and Hawaii banning shark fin trade and possession in 2011.
Europe protects porbeagle sharks
The European Union banned all fishing for porbeagle sharks in November in a huge step forward for conservation of the threatened sharks.
Long coveted for their large fins and meat, porbeagle sharks are vulnerable to overfishing because they reproduce slowly. Scientists estimate that the population of porbeagle sharks in the Mediterranean Sea has declined by as much as 99 percent in the last century.
Under the new rules, no porbeagle sharks may be caught in E.U. waters, including the Mediterranean, and no E.U. ship in international waters is permitted to catch porbeagles.
The sharks are a highly migratory species that can grow to eight feet in length. They are found in the North Atlantic as well as the ocean waters surrounding Antarctica.
Oceana uncovers rampant seafood fraud
An investigation by Oceana revealed that one in five fish fillets bought in Boston-area markets was mislabeled, a confirmation of the widespread issue of seafood fraud.
Atlantic cod was the most commonly mislabeled species in Oceana’s analysis, which tested 88 samples from 15 supermarkets. Red snapper, an overfished species, was often sold as vermilion snapper.
Other independent studies have also uncovered seafood fraud, suggesting that mislabeling occurs as much as 25 to 70 percent of the time for red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, which are replaced with cheaper or less desirable species. One study found 38 percent of wild salmon was mislabeled in the Puget Sound area of Washington.
The United States imports more seafood than any other nation. Of the 84 percent of seafood that is imported into the United States, only two percent is currently inspected, and less than 0.001 percent specifically for seafood fraud. Oceana is pushing for legislation to require better traceability of seafood from hook to fork.
Key committee approves expansion of Chile’s Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park
In January, a Chilean government committee unanimously approved Oceana’s proposal to nearly triple the size of the Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park, which was established in 2010 after Oceana’s expeditions to the remote Pacific Ocean area showed an extraordinary array of marine wildlife.
The lower house of the Chilean Parliament’s Committee on Natural Resources and Environment will now vote on the measure, which has already received verbal support from Chilean President Sebastián Piñera.
The marine park surrounds Salas y Gomez Island, a rocky outpost 2,000 miles from Chile’s shore. A joint expedition by Oceana, the Waitt Foundation, National Geographic and the Chilean Navy revealed that the marine reserve is teeming with wildlife, from sharks to enormous corals. Nearby Easter Island, which has faced centuries of fishing, features much smaller fish and wildlife populations, making it hard for the local Rapa Nui people to continue to live off the water.
The establishment of the marine reserve in 2010 expanded Chile’s protected marine areas by a hundredfold. The new proposal would expand the reserve to more than 255,000 square miles, which would make it the second largest marine reserve in the world.