The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog
After 16 days Congress has finally ended the government shutdown. But while thousands of workers are able to return to work, our oceans will continue to suffer from Congress's misguided bickering.
Yesterday I partnered with actor and ocean activist Ted Danson to discuss just how harmful the government shutdown was for our oceans. In an editorial for the Huffington Post, we revealed how the shutdown affected critical ocean research, and how it could continue to impact fisheries management through next year.
After we posted our blog, “The Washington Post is Wrong About Farmed Salmon," we got a lot of questions about wild salmon feed ratio versus the feed ratio for farmed salmon. One commentator even suggested that because wild salmon eat at ratios higher than one to one, it might be better for the ocean if we switch to eating farmed salmon (instead of wild) because it would save more wild fish.
We live in a world increasingly divided and governed by partisanship. At times, it can be frustrating for those of us who want to make a difference.
That is why I am proud to let you know about the Oceana’s relationship with two remarkable leaders from different sides of the aisle, both united in their desire to save our oceans: Hillary Rodham Clinton and James Connaughton.
I have more great news to share with you about Oceana’s campaign to halt the use of deadly seismic airguns on our Atlantic coast. On September 6, Oceana delivered more than 100,000 petitions to Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Those petitions urge the government to stop the proposed use of seismic airguns, which the energy industry wants to use to search more than 300,000 square miles of the Atlantic for buried oil and gas deposits.
Oceana’s new book, The Perfect Protein is available for sale at your local book store and online. Authored by myself and Suzannah Evans, with a foreword by Bill Clinton, this book explores the connections between ocean conservation and food security.
The new ideas presented in The Perfect Protein are gathering attention, and I want to share some of the coverage it received in the press and digital media:
It’s not often that a government delay is cause for celebration, but this time the oceans caught a break. After campaigning by Oceana and our allies, the Department of the Interior decided to postpone their decision on whether to allow seismic airgun use off the Atlantic coast until next March.
This is the third time Oceana has successfully delayed the decision, allowing us the chance to build opposition and to urge more lawmakers to protect marine mammals by opposing testing. It also gives the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration time to update its outdated standards for the level of noise that is harmful to sea life.
Nine billion of us are estimated to be on the planet by 2050, and the demand for food will increase by 70 percent above today’s levels. If land and fresh water are already under strain, how in the world are we going to feed a population that grows by 220,000 mouths every day? Well, the ocean conservation measures you champion as an Oceana supporter can, believe it or not, help make a huge difference. You can find out how in my new book, The Perfect Protein, which can be pre-ordered now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Indiebound.
If you’re a Marylander like me, this is a time to be proud. The Old Line State has stepped forward, making ocean conservation a priority and providing an example that other states would be wise to follow.
First, Maryland became a leader in developing offshore wind energy by passing The Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, which was signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley this week. The measure will help spur the development of at least 200 megawatts of renewable energy off Maryland’s coast – enough to power about 200,000 homes.
While wind turbines already dot Europe’s coast, the United States has yet to construct a single offshore wind farm. Maryland’s legislation marks an important milestone on this country’s path to a clean ocean energy future.
This victory was made possible by the tireless advocacy of Oceana and a diverse coalition of environmental, faith, business and community groups, all of which recognized the need to transition to this clean and abundant form of energy, and away from fossil fuels. Special thanks to Chesapeake Climate Action Network, National Wildlife Federation, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Maryland Sierra Club and Environment Maryland for helping to pressure lawmakers to take this first step towards a greener energy portfolio for the state.
Second, both the Maryland House and Senate passed a bill to prohibit the sale and trade of shark fins. Pending the signature of the Governor, Maryland will become the first state on the East Coast to adopt such a ban. Approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year, primarily to support the demand for shark fin soup. While shark finning is banned in the U.S, this brutal practice—which involves slicing the fins off a live shark and then dumping it back in the water where it is left to die—is still occurring around the world. By stopping the shark fin trade in state, Maryland can help protect sharks worldwide.
So congratulations Maryland, but remember, there’s a lot of work still left to do to protect our oceans. As for the rest of the states, what are you waiting for?
I have some terrific news to report: Shell announced yesterday that it will suspend attempts to drill for oil in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.
This announcement comes as a huge relief after Shell’s dangerous string of mishaps in the Arctic in the past year. In late December, the company’s drill rig, the Kulluk, broke away from its tow vessel in rough seas, and ran aground on New Year’s Eve off of Kodiak Island in an area that is home to endangered Steller sea lions, threatened southwest sea otters, and salmon.
Fortunately, the Coast Guard was able to rescue the crew of the Kulluk, and salvage crews were able to pull the vessel off the rocks without significant ecological harm. But the Kulluk incident capped off a year of missteps, and made it clear that Shell is not prepared to drill in the Arctic.
As Oceana’s Mike LeVine points out, “Shell currently faces two disabled vessels, two pending Coast Guard investigations, two notices of violation of the Clean Air Act, and an ongoing ‘assessment’ by the Department of the Interior. Fundamentally, both the company and the government agencies charged with making decisions about our ocean resources are faced with a crisis of confidence. The decisions to allow Shell to operate in the Arctic Ocean clearly were premature.”
This week, the civil trial began in New Orleans against BP and its partners in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. During the opening statements, an attorney for the Justice Department said, "The evidence will show that BP put profits above people, profits before safety and profits before the environment.”
The attorney’s statement could easily describe Shell’s behavior in 2012, except that the company was forced, by its own failures, to stop before real disaster struck. We are extremely lucky to have avoided catastrophe considering the unforgiving conditions in Alaskan waters and the impossibility of cleaning up a spill.
Kudos to Oceana’s team and our allies in Alaska for their persistent campaign work to achieve this victory.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana
Do you know what you are serving your family tonight? If it’s fish there’s a good chance that you don’t.
Today Oceana unveiled its landmark national seafood fraud report, one of the largest of its kind and one that should make consumers sit up and demand change.
Over the past several years Oceana tested 1,215 fish samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states. DNA testing confirmed that fully one-third of this seafood was mislabeled—that is, what we ordered wasn’t what we got.
No matter where you live, seafood fraud is likely to be an issue. But if you live in Austin, Houston or Boston, it is especially widespread. According to our investigation, almost half of the fish tested in these cities was mislabeled. In Southern California the problem was even worse, with mislabeled fish accounting for more than half (52%) of the seafood we tested! Elsewhere, rates of mislabeling were found to be 39 percent in New York City, 38 percent in Northern California and South Florida, 36 percent in Denver, 35 percent in Kansas City, 32 percent in Chicago, 26 percent in Washington, D.C., 21 percent in Portland and 18 percent in Seattle. Nationwide, sushi restaurants mislabeled their fish 74 percent of the time.
As one of our scientists told me, these findings are disturbing—and they’re disturbing for a few reasons. Not only can seafood fraud rip you off by making you pay more for less expensive fish but it can actually be bad for your health. Our scientists found that some fish that had landed a spot on the FDA’s “DO NOT EAT” list for sensitive groups such as pregnant women and children because of its high mercury content was nonetheless being substituted for safer fish. In New York this meant tilefish disguised as red snapper and halibut, while in South Florida king mackerel became grouper. Elsewhere escolar, an oily fish that is known for its purgative effects in some consumers, was substituted 84% of the time for white tuna
If that wasn’t bad enough, mislabeling can be harmful to the oceans as well. By disguising one species as another, it can be nearly impossible for consumers to make responsible decisions to avoid eating overfished species.
So what can you do about it? Right now the United States imports more than 90 percent of the seafood it consumes, but the FDA inspects less than one percent of that seafood specifically for fraud. Obviously this needs to change and we need to call upon our lawmakers to ensure full traceability for all seafood sold in the country. Oceana is hard at work behind the scenes to make this happen. In the meantime, if you don’t want to be duped by seafood fraud you can start by asking where and how your seafood was caught, be wary of fish that seems cheaper than it should and, when possible, buy fish whole.
Seafood is one of the healthiest sources of protein on the planet and should be a part of any healthy diet, but we need to know that what we’re buying is what the label says it is—for the good of our health, our wallets and our oceans.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana
- Ocean Roundup: Tiny Clownfish Can Swim for 250 Miles, Sydney Harbor May Turn Tropical, and More Posted Thu, September 18, 2014
- Congress Advances Legislation to Fight Pirate Fishing, Keep Illegally-Caught Seafood Out of U.S. Market Posted Fri, September 19, 2014
- Sharks and Rays Gain International Protection under CITES Listing Posted Sun, September 14, 2014
- Photos: Oceana Launches Expedition to El Hierro Island and Atlantic Seamounts Posted Thu, September 18, 2014
- High Level of Seafood Fraud Found in Denmark Posted Sat, September 20, 2014