We are thrilled to announce another ocean victory this week! In an ambitious step for ocean protection, Portugal has decided to nominate the rich ecosystem of the Gorringe Bank as a new Marine Protected Area.
The Gorringe seamounts, located 300 kilometers off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, are a marvel to behold: at 5000 meters high, they boast a veritable kaleidoscope of colorful flora and fauna. Since 2005, Oceana has worked to draw attention and recognition to this bank, and to bring its spectacular seamount ranges into the network of marine protected areas.
An Oceana expedition by our catamaran, the Ranger, to the Gorringe area in October 2012 documented species never before seen in these seamounts, including branching black coral, roughskin dogfish, hydrocoral, birdâ€™s nest sponge, and various gorgonia. Dozens of the species observed on this expedition have not yet been identified. Unfortunately, among these unique wonders, the expedition also documented the invasive presence of litter, debris, and fishing gear, particularly in the rocky seabeds of the banks.
The nomination of the Gorringe as a protected area in the Atlantic brings hope for a halt and even a reversal of the destruction of this complex and diverse ecosystem that hosts corals, sharks, seabirds, whales, and more. Currently, Portugal maintains the least marine protected surface in all of Europe. With this ambitious project, however, the Portuguese government looks to soar from the bottom of the list to the top. Boasting more than 1.7 square kilometers in its Exclusive Economic Zone and nearly 4 million square kilometers claimed as an expansion of its continental shelf, Portugalâ€™s bold step for the oceans is an admirable example for the EU, and for all coastal countries of the world.
Weâ€™re pleased to announce that the Spanish government has put an end to proposed oil industry development that would have threatened the DoĂ±ana National Park, a World Heritage Site, after campaigning by Oceana and our allies.
Plans to build an oil refinery in the Gulf of Cadiz, not far from DoĂ±ana, would have led to higher ship traffic in the area and a higher risk of oil spills or accidents during the tankersâ€™ unloading operations. Oceana is currently working to create a Marine Protected Area in this section of the Gulf of Cadiz, which would be linked to the National Park.
DoĂ±ana National Park was established in 1993 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Its marshes, streams, and sand dunes are home to plants and animals found almost nowhere else in the world.
Many migratory birds spend their winters in the park lands, and endangered species like the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx (one of the worldâ€™s most endangered cat species) call this area home. In the marshes of DoĂ±ana National Park, you can also find birds like the Avocet and the Purple Heron, both of which depend on the sensitive estuary habitats.
Increased oil tanker traffic could have potentially damaged the already vulnerable habitats of these animals.
Oceana identified the threats posed by the construction of this oil refinery in 2005, and has been campaigning against it with other conservationist groups. Oceana Europe is now calling on the Spanish government to enact similar protections for other marine protected areas.
It has been a banner year for shark conservation â€“ and the good news just keeps rolling in, this time out of Europe.
Today the EU's executive arm proposed a complete ban on shark finning, the practice of cutting off the fins of sharks, often while they are still alive, and then throwing the wounded animals back into the sea.
Weâ€™re proud to report that Oceana played a big part in securing this victory; our colleagues in Europe have been campaigning for a shark finning ban in the EU for years.
If the proposal is adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, all vessels fishing in EU waters and all EU vessels fishing anywhere in the world will have to land sharks with the fins still attached â€“ a boon for vulnerable shark populations around the world.
The EU includes some of the worldâ€™s major shark fishing nations â€“ Spain, France, Portugal, and the UK. The largest EU shark fisheries occur on the high seas, where Spanish and Portuguese pelagic longliners that historically targeted mainly tuna and swordfish now increasingly catch sharks, particularly oceanic species such as blue sharks and shortfin mako sharks. More than half of large oceanic shark species are currently considered threatened.
Globally, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year to satisfy the demand of the international shark fin market. EU nations combined catch the second-largest share of sharks â€“ 14% of the worldâ€™s reported shark catches.
Today's proposal strengthens the existing EU legislation banning shark finning, which allows shark finning in certain situations. Currently the fins and bodies can be separated on board vessels with special permits, and then landed at different ports. The EU tries to ensure that no bodies have been discarded by making sure the weight of the fins does not exceed 5 percent of the entire weight of the fish landed. The new rule would close this loophole.
"A stronger ban on shark finning will bring significant benefits for shark fisheries management and conservation, not only in Europe, but in all of the oceans where European vessels are catching sharks," said Dr. Allison Perry, marine wildlife scientist with Oceana in Europe.
Congrats to everyone who helped score this huge win for sharks, and fingers crossed for approval by the EU Council and Parliament!
Today, the EU has announced important measures that will protect porbeagle sharks, which are threatened by overfishing.
The new laws will protect porbeagles throughout EU waters, where previous regulations only applied in certain areas. Todayâ€™s measures make all fishing for porbeagles illegal and requires that any sharks caught accidentally be released immediately.
Porbeagles are heavily fished for their fins and meat, and because they take a long time to reproduce, they recover from overfishing extremely slowly. Estimates suggest that porbeagle populations in the Mediterranean have declined by 99% since the 1950s.
While this is great news, there is still more to be done to protect vulnerable porbeagles. â€śThe protection of porbeagles by the EU represents an important step for the conservation of this species. However, given its highly migratory nature, if porbeagles are to recover, similar actions must follow at the international level,â€ť said Dr. Allison Perry, wildlife marine scientist with Oceana.
Weâ€™re particularly excited about the timing of this measure because it comes right before this monthâ€™s meeting of ICCAT, an international commission with the authority to enact shark protections across the Atlantic Ocean.
We want the U.S. to call for international protections for porbeagles and other vulnerable shark species. You can help us by speaking up for sharks!
Oceana released a new report today outlining the shocking amount of subsidies that pour into Europeâ€™s fishing industry. European taxpayers are essentially paying for overfishing â€“ to the tune of 3.3 billion Euros ($4.6 billion) in 2009.
Here are some other stunning facts from the report:
- Oceanaâ€™s analysis found that a total of at least â‚¬3.3 billion of subsidies were available to the European Union fishing sector in 2009. This is more than three times quoted public figures, which only reference the European Fisheries Fund.
- Total subsidies to the fishing sector are equivalent to 50 percent of the value of the total fish catch by the European Union in the same year ( â‚¬6.6 billion)
- Spain, France, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Italy received the most fishing subsidies.
- 13 European Union countries had more fishing subsidies than the value of the landings of fish in their ports.
- Europe is one of the worldâ€™s top three subsidizers, along with China and Japan.
- As a result of these major subsidies, the European Union now has a fishing fleet that is two to three times larger than what is needed to fish sustainably.
- More than two-thirds of these subsidies have the ability to enhance fishing capacity and promote overfishing.
Check out the full report and pass it on!
Today, the U.S. and E.U. signed a historic agreement to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. These activities are responsible for most illegal fish on the market, some of the most destructive fishing practices in use, and a loss of as much as $23 billion in revenue for legal American fishermen.
The agreement builds on measures each side has already enacted, such as an American moratorium on driftnet fishing and European import processes that require seafood certification. Additionally, two bills currently in the Senate would ban mislabeling seafood and put government money to reducing seafood fraud.
News of the US-EU agreement comes on the heels of a new study recommending that industrial deep-sea fishing be banned. Many deep-sea fish, such as orange roughy and Chilean sea bass, have long lifespans and low birthrates that make them highly susceptible to overfishing. The study also cites the harmful effects of bottom-trawlers, which both wipe out entire local populations of the target fish species and bulldoze long-lived deep sea corals.
Oceana board member and renowned fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly told the Washington Post that the costs of deep-sea fishing far outweigh the benefits.
â€śItâ€™s a waste of resources, itâ€™s a waste of biodiversity, itâ€™s a waste of everything,â€ť Pauly said. â€śIn the end, there is nothing left.â€ť
Spainâ€™s biggest newspaper, El PaĂs, featured Oceana prominently in this morningâ€™s cover story. The article describes Oceanaâ€™s unrelenting effort to make previously confidential research regarding unsafe mercury levels in large fish freely accessible to the public, highlighting an important victory with implications for the health of the Spanish populace and the transparency of the Spanish government.
Hereâ€™s the back story: in 2003, Spainâ€™s Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) conducted a large research study that documented levels of mercury and other heavy metals in large fish such as various sharks, swordfish, and bluefin tuna.
The results of the study were not good: 62.5 percent of the 128 mako shark samples and 54.2 percent of the swordfish samples contained high, unpermitted levels of mercury. Despite this alarming evidence, the results were never released due to concerns about its possible impact on the fishing industry.
Last week, in a culmination of several years of work, our European colleagues presented a proposal to protect 15% of the marine area around Spainâ€™s Canary Islands. If the proposal is accepted, it would multiply the current protected area by 100.
Hereâ€™s the back story: In 2009 the Oceana Ranger, our research catamaran, sailed to the Canaries, which are off the coast of Morocco. Over the course of two months, the crew documented the seamounts and seabeds of the archipelago, and found a dozen species never before seen in the area, and filmed many rare species, including three-foot-tall glass sponges, Venus fly-trap anemones and lollipop sponges. (For more on the Canaries see this piece from our magazine last winter.)