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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.
European Parliament and the Fisheries Council reached a political agreement on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, the financial mechanism that will allow the implementation of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy over the next seven years. Previous fisheries subsidies schemes have given priority to short-term economic interests at the expense of sustainability, using taxpayer’s money to increase fleet capacity and fund overfishing.
Oceana supports the efforts of the European Parliament and Council to stop this toxic pattern, and shift spending towards beneficial measures such as control and data collection. However, Oceana also acknowledges that the EU must move further to make a clean break from harmful subsidies, including recognizing risks associated with certain environmentally harmful subsidies, like those for new engines and the temporary cessation of fishing activity.
In late January, Shell’s new CEO announced that the company will not pursue any exploration drilling in the Arctic Ocean in 2014. This news came days after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Department of the Interior violated U.S. law in deciding to hold drilling Lease Sale 193, during which Shell and other oil companies purchased leases in the Chukchi Sea. This ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by Oceana and a coalition of conservation and Alaska Native partners, represented by Earthjustice. Shell encountered numerous problems and violations during its 2012 exploration attempt, including an incident when its drilling rig, the Kulluk, ran aground during a winter storm. Currently, there is no proven technology that would allow companies to drill safely in the Arctic. Despite Shell’s attempts, no exploration wells have been completed in the Arctic Ocean in more than 20 years.Read Press Release
In late December, the Chilean government announced the first set of science-backed quotas for 2014. With guidance from scientific committees, the Chilean government set quotas for four critical species of fish: common hake, anchoveta, sardines, and jack mackerel. The reductions are dramatic—the government reduced the quota for common hake by 55 percent, for anchoveta by 65 percent in specific regions, and for sardines by 29 percent in specific regions. Chile’s first science-informed quotas are a tremendous step toward reforming fisheries and ensuring that the oceans remain a plentiful source of food.
Mediterranean countries and the EU decided to protect 11 species of deep-sea corals at the 18th COP to the Barcelona Convention. They also decided to implement the Action Plan on Dark Habitats, a scientific document drafted in part by Oceana, which will enable the creation of marine protected areas in deep-sea habitats like seamounts, submarine canyons, and caves. Many of these deep-sea habitats are unprotected, despite being extremely vulnerable to human activities like pollution, overfishing, and climate change.Read Press Release
After campaigning by Oceana and our allies, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted reduce the 2014 sardine catch levels by 33 percent to help halt dramatic declines in this important species. Since 2007, the Pacific sardine population has fallen by almost 979,000 tons and is at its lowest biomass in two decades, according to a population assessment released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in October. Declines in the sardine population will negatively impact the many Pacific species that rely on these fish for food, including Chinook salmon, bluefin tuna, brown pelicans, dolphins, and large whales.Read Press Release
Emergency Rules Implemented to Protect Endangered Sperm Whales from California Drift GillnetsSeptember, 2013
On September 3, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued emergency regulations that will shut down California’s drift gillnet fishery if a single endangered sperm whale is caught. The fishery kills more whales and other marine mammals than any other fishery along the U.S. West Coast and has one of the highest bycatch rates in the country. These rules will also require independent observers on all drift gillnet vessels operating in offshore waters deeper than 6,500 feet. The rules will be enforced by requiring new vessel monitoring systems tracking the locations of all drift gillnet vessels off the U.S. West Coast.Read Press Release
The Department of the Interior postponed a decision on whether to allow seismic airgun use in 300,000 square miles of ocean off the Atlantic coast. This is the third time Oceana has successfully helped delay the decision. The government’s estimates predict that seismic testing would disrupt critical behaviors like feeding, calving, and breeding for many marine creatures, including dolphins, whales, and loggerhead sea turtles. At least 138,500 dolphins and whales will be injured, or possibly killed, if airguns are allowed in the mid-Atlantic. Coastal fisheries in seven states would also be impacted, as airguns can lower catch rates between 40 and 80 percent.