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The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to clean up California’s swordfish drift gillnet fishery by considering placing the first ever “hard caps” on the numbers of several protected species that can be injured or killed in the fishery. These species include fin, humpback, and sperm whales and leatherback, loggerhead, Olive ridley, and green sea turtles. The Council will make a final decision on hard caps in the fall for implementation in next year’s fishing season. The Council also set a target to require 100 percent monitoring so that all catch and bycatch is counted on every trip no later than the summer of 2016. Additionally, federal fisheries managers will consider bycatch reduction alternatives for all other marine mammals, sharks, and fish species that are discarded in the fishery.Read Press Release
President Obama Announces Initiative to Tackle Seafood Fraud at Global “Our Ocean” ConferenceJune, 2014
President Obama announced an initiative to tackle seafood fraud and illegal fishing in the United States. The announcement, which was made at the global “Our Ocean” conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, directs federal agencies to work together to develop a comprehensive program aimed at combatting seafood fraud and keeping illegal fish out of the U.S. market. Since 2011, Oceana has worked to expose seafood fraud in the U.S. In a nationwide study released last year, Oceana found that 33 percent of the more than 1,200 seafood samples it tested were mislabeled, according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines. Oceana hails today’s announcement as a huge victory for our wallets, our health, and our oceans.Read Press Release
The California Senate passed seafood labeling legislation (SB 1138), with unanimous support. SB 1138 will begin to solve the complex problem of seafood fraud by requiring that all fish and shellfish be accurately labeled by their common names. Oceana works to expose seafood fraud in the U.S. and applauds the California senate for their widespread support. SB 1138 will now be considered by the state Assembly, where it must receive a unanimous vote by August 31 in order to go to the Governor’s desk for consideration.Read Press Release
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced emergency actions designed to protect endangered sperm whales from being caught in the California swordfish/thresher shark drift gillnet fishery. The regulations state the NMFS will shut down California’s drift gillnet swordfish fishery if a single endangered sperm whale is killed or injured by the destructive nets. Independent observers will now be aboard all drift gillnet vessels operating in offshore waters deeper than 6,500 feet (2,000 meters), where sperm whales are most often observed. The ruling also requires fishing vessels to carry vessel monitoring systems that track the real-time locations of all drift gillnet vessels off the U.S. West Coast.Read Press Release
National Marine Fisheries Service to Maintain Protections for Critical Rockfish Conservation AreasApril, 2014
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a final rule to maintain approximately 12,620 square miles of existing conservation area in order to protect overfished rockfish populations off the U.S. West Coast. This decision was a direct response to scientific information submitted by Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). All three organizations are working together to ensure the recovery of overfished rockfish species and the conservation of ocean habitats. Cold-water corals and underwater reefs are among other seafloor habitats that will remain closed to bottom trawling under this final rule. Oceana, NRDC and other organizations have active conservation proposals before the Pacific Council that would designate parts of the “Rockfish Conservation Area” (RCA) as “Essential Fish Habitat” conservation areas, closed to bottom trawling.Read Press Release
Senate Finance Committee Clears Way for Extension of Critically Important Investment Tax Credit for Offshore WindApril, 2014
The United States Senate Committee on Finance cleared the way for a two-year extension of the investment tax credit (ITC) for offshore wind projects. Construction began before the end of 2015. The credit was allowed to expire on December 31, 2013.Read Press Release
The Pacific Fishery Management Council decided to cease consideration of a proposal to expand the use of deadly drift gillnets off California and instead requested extension of emergency regulations that went into effect last year to protect endangered sperm whales from entrapment in drift gillnets, until permanent protections are implemented. Oceana provided testimony at the meeting and is co-sponsoring the bill to eliminate these mile-long ‘walls of death’ off California and replace them with cleaner and more selective gear types to ensure a vibrant, healthy, sustainable marine ecosystem and ocean-based economy into the future. This bill will prohibit the use of drift gillnets to take swordfish or sharks while allowing continued fishing for swordfish and sharks with hand-held hook and lines, harpoons, and experimental gears. The bill also establishes a new state policy to support a federal prohibition on drift gillnets off the U.S. West Coast. This effort is long overdue.Read Press Release
The New England Fishery Management Council took an important step forward for ocean conservation by agreeing to allocate $800,000 to support fishery research in the struggling groundfish fishery for cod, haddock and flounder. The Council has funds to support several projects and included bycatch reduction and solutions as themes in the call for research proposals.
This action comes only a month after Oceana released a report exposing nine of the dirtiest bycatch fisheries in the U.S., which included two New England fisheries—the Northeast Bottom Trawl and New England and Mid-Atlantic Gillnet fisheries, which discard 35 percent and 16 percent of what they catch, respectively.
Recommendations adopted by the Council include solutions Oceana had called for in the report, such as bycatch avoidance, like hotspot identification and management, and bycatch minimization through gear improvements. Additionally, in response to intense industry interest in fishing in areas currently closed, the Council included guidance to safeguard marine habitats in any research funded in this program.
The New England Fishery Management Council also approved an action implementing the federally mandated Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM). In its final approval the Council included clear guidance to the National Marine Fisheries Service that bycatch information should be specific to particular stocks of fish and connected to the management of the fisheries. This is a significant improvement over past Agency reports that were far too generic to be useful. Without accurate and precise information about bycatch, fisheries managers cannot do their jobs effectively. This action by the Council recognizes this need and gives clear direction to the federal government that high-quality information is necessary. Oceana has worked for years to ensure that SBRM is implemented in order to improve information about bycatch and will continue to push for other necessary improvements before the Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology is put in place in early 2015.
Last year, NOAA challenged state shark fin bans across the country, suggesting that they might be preempted, or overruled, by federal law. State shark fin laws protect sharks by banning the sale, trade, distribution and possession of shark fins, effectively shutting down the market for shark fins. In response to NOAAs actions, Oceana launched a public awareness campaign, running high-visibility Metro ads at stations near NOAA’s offices and sending a letter to NOAA signed by more than 24,000 activists urging the agency not to jeopardize state bans and their benefits for sharks. In early 2014 NOAA removed its challenge to California, Maryland and Washington’s shark fin laws. We are confident that NOAA will also drop their challenges in the remaining five states.