Weâ€™ve got some great news to share with you â€“ The European Union (EU) agreed on Thursday to tighten their existing ban on shark finning, and to effectively close a final loophole in the ban on finning. With the change, shark finning will be forbidden by all vessels in EU waters and by all EU-registered vessels around the world. â€śShark finning is one of the main threats to the shark population,â€ť Sandrine Polti, policy adviser to the Shark Alliance, explained to the Huffington Post. â€śWeâ€™re now in a much better position to push for a global shark-finning ban.â€ť
Last month, in the Coquimbo region of northern Chile, more than 600 guanay cormorants and penguins were found dead on the beaches. The citizen control that monitors the area reported that on May 10, ten fishing boats were seen approaching the beach opposite the Los Choros ravine. Two days later, the Movement in Defense of the Environment (MODEMA) reports, the first dead beached birds were discovered â€“ boobies, Yeco ducks, pelicans, and Humboldt penguins among them. The National Fisheries Service has confirmed the death of these species on-site, and the Chilean Navy is inspecting vessels there.
The question then becomes â€“ what caused this mass death of birds, and are these fishing boats responsible?
Following Oceanaâ€™s newly released report on the harmful impacts of illegal fishing, one of the questions that I as Oceana's Northeast representative was asked most often was, â€śWhere is this happening?â€ť The short answer: Illegal fishing happens everywhere, from the most distant waters near Antarctica to just off the U.S. coast.
As you enjoy those last holiday cookies before the New Year comes with its resolutions, weâ€™d love to share one final present for you to enjoy: we are thrilled to announce that last week, the country of Chile became the first in the world to protect all of its seamounts from the devastating effects of bottom trawling! Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless and actor and Oceana board member Ted Danson collaborated in an article published by the Huffington Post to share this excellent news with the world.
Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges that are home to an unbelievable array of sea creatures fed by the nutrient-rich water from the deep upwells. The destructive practice of bottom trawling, where large, heavy nets weighing as much as several tons each effectively clear-cut everything living on the seafloor, causes more direct and avoidable damage to the ocean floor and its creatures than any other human activity in the world. Although some of Chileâ€™s seamounts have already been damaged or destroyed by the countryâ€™s fishing fleet, the December 20 decision closes any further trawling to Chileâ€™s 118 seamounts until scientists have assessed these and other underwater ecosystems off the coast of Chile.
The Senate took an important step forward last month in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, also known as pirate fishing, by passing the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (S. 1980) through the Commerce Committee.
The bill implements the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (Agreement), which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted in November 2009 and, if ratified, would be the first binding international agreement to specifically combat illegal fishing. The bipartisan bill easily passed the committee and now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.
Pirate fishing is a serious problem that threatens the oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers alike. Pirate fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching threatened or endangered species. Because this fishing goes unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess its true impact on our oceans.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that pirate fishing leads to global economic losses between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for up to 40 percent of the catch in certain fisheries. One of the easiest ways to address this problem is to close our ports to illegal fishing vessels and help ensure that illegal fish are kept out of our markets.
The bill would accomplish these goals by establishing specific requirements for port entry. In particular, it specifies minimum standards for dockside inspections, requires that nations designate specific ports to which foreign vessels may seek entry and requires that nations share information about violators. If any vessel is known to have or is suspected of pirate fishing, a nation must deny that vessel port entry. The bill also expressly makes the mislabeling and misidentification of fish or fish products illegal.
S. 1980 is a good first step toward addressing illegal fishing, and Oceana commends the Senate Commerce Committee for moving it forward. While Congress is now in recess until September, we hope that both the House and Senate will use the short legislative session in the fall to move this important bill to finally give the U.S. the tools it needs to fight pirate fishing and ensure that illegally-caught fish do not enter our market.
The health benefits of seafood are well-documented, but some people avoid eating it after hearing reports of high mercury levels. This video might help make things a little clearer.
Produced by the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, the video explains how mercury gets into water and then into the fish that we eat. Burning coal releases mercury into the air and increases its concentrations in our waterways. Depending on where in the food chain a fish is, it could have low levels of mercury or high levels that could be unhealthy.
Eating seafood has many health benefitsâ€”it has important Omega 3 fatty acids and is low in the saturated fats you find in other animal proteins, especially red meat. Many fish are safe and healthy to eat. While shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna have higher mercury levels, there are plenty of other options that are safe to eat. You can find responsible and healthy seafood choices in our Sustainable Seafood Guide.
Check out the video, which also features Oceana senior scientist Kim Warner, to learn more about how mercury builds up in the environment and how to stay healthy while including seafood in your diet.
Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and AtÂmospheric Administration set catch limits under the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act amendments for all covered species, a major triumph for fisheries management.
The Environmental Forum asked the leading voices in fisheries management, â€śIs the 2006 law succeeding in reÂstoring fish stocks? Are adjustments needed to ensure robust stocks and sustainable commerÂcial and recreational fisheries in the future?â€ť Hereâ€™s an excerpt of the response by Mike Hirshfield. Oceanaâ€™s Senior Vice PresiÂdent for North America, and Chief Scientist. He is currently on sabbatical; you can read about his travels at his blog.
The United States is fortuÂnate to have a law designed to keep abundant fish populations in the ocean. All ocean lovers, including commercial and recreational fisherÂmen, should celebrate the passage of the 2006 amendments to that law. If they are carried out fully, we will definitely see increased fish populations in future years. Our fishery management system is one of the best in the world, certainly compared to places like Europe. But before we pat ourselves on the back too much, we need to take a clear-eyed look at what the amendments did â€” and didnâ€™t â€” do, as well as the way the National Marine FisherÂies Service is implementing the law. Some problem areas are indicated below by italics.
The amendments only addressed part of the problem. Fisheries manÂagement comes down to three prinÂciples: First, donâ€™t kill more fish than can be replenished. Second, donâ€™t kill too many other animals. And third, donâ€™t wreck the places fish need to live. The 2006 amendments really only dealt with the first.
The amendments came 10 years too late for some species. ConservationÂists thought the 1996 amendments required an end to overfishing. We were wrong. Unfortunately, for some species, the additional decade meant ten more years of declining populaÂtions. For long-lived, slow-growing species like Atlantic halibut, some sharks, and Pacific rockfish, the extra overfishing means their populations wonâ€™t rebuild for decades â€” if ever.
Too many species are â€śoff the books.â€ť Several hundred species of fish caught by fishermen are not inÂcluded in fishery management plans, so managers donâ€™t consider them subject to the accountability requireÂments of the 2006 amendments. Managers have even removed species from plans to avoid the obligation. Species subject to international management are exempt from the requirements, even if overfished, like Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Too many species may fail to reÂbuild. Many rebuilding plans are designed with little better than a 50 percent chance of success â€” meanÂing they are nearly as likely to fail. Even an 80 percent chance of sucÂcess means 20 of 100 such plans will fail. We may not always have all the science we would like, but it needs to be taken seriously, with the tie going to the fish. We need more safety margin, not less.
The bare minimum is the target. â€śNot overfishedâ€ť and â€śpreventing overfishingâ€ť are weak standards of success, leaving too many populaÂtions at risk. Fish stocks will face increased threats from a changing climate. We need to hedge our bets with larger fish populations, not the bare minimum.
You can read the full piece at The Environmental Forum.
Did you know that protecting our oceans could be an answer to world hunger? A few weeks ago our CEO Andy Sharpless gave a talk at TedxSF about how saving the oceans can help feed the world.
We think itâ€™s a fantastic, thought-provoking presentation, please watch and pass it on:
Great news today: The Chilean Government announced its intention to expand the Salas y GĂłmez marine reserve and to create a smaller reserve in Hanga Roa Bay â€“ the harbor right off the main town and capital of historic Easter Island. This new marine conservation plan for Easter Island is set to be established by the end of the year.
The government also announced the plan to develop an assessment and status report of the main fisheries of Easter Island.
Following an expedition in 2010 to Salas y GĂłmez Island, led by Oceana, National Geographic, and the Waitt Foundation, the Chilean President announced the creation of the original Salas y GĂłmez marine reserve. This no-take reserve protects 150,000 square kilometers around the island â€“ an area larger than Greece.
In 2011, Oceana and National Geographic Society partnered with the Chilean Navy and conducted an unprecedented expedition to study the marine area surrounding Easter Island and Salas y GĂłmez Island to assess their current states of conservation and potential need for new protection measures. Using the baseline study developed from this collaboration, Oceana proposed the expansion of the Salas y GĂłmez marine reserve, Motu Motiro Hiva, to an area of 411,000 km2, making it the second largest no-take marine protected area in the world.
These marine protected areas can only officially be declared after a referendum is conducted for the people of Easter Island, known as the Rapa Nui, and they give their approval for the proposals.
Easter Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its stone statues, called Moai. Salas y GĂłmez Island is a small uninhabited island 250 miles east of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. It was described by Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Ocean Fellow, as one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean.
Weâ€™re excited to hear that Chile is electing to protect its invaluable marine resources in Easter Island and Salas y GĂłmez â€“ and weâ€™ll keep you posted as things progress.
Editor's note: This is fifth and final part in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
After meeting with Marybeth in Lanuza, our crew headed back to Butuan City, where we split up â€“ Paul to Manila on his way back to the UK, and Fel, Lito and myself to Cebu. Fel, a pride program manager for Rare, was nice enough to stick around in Cebu with me for a day and take me to the wet and dried fish markets in the old part of the city, where we could see the flip side of overfishing in the Philippines.
Cebu, the oldest city in the country, is the site where Ferdinand Magellan landed in 1521. He converted a few hundred native people to Catholicism before being killed in a battle a few weeks later, but his legacy endures: the Philippines is quite possibly the most Catholic place Iâ€™ve ever been, and Iâ€™ve been to Rome. Every office building includes images of Christ and the Virgin Mary, and religion is woven into even the fashions of the young Filipinos, like the rhinestone cross earrings I saw on a young woman on our jeepney ride to the market.
The central market in Cebu encompasses several blocks of ramshackle stalls containing everything from bursting funeral flower arrangements to cages full of fighting roosters. Hereâ€™s where you can buy one of the Philippinesâ€™ famous street food delicacies: balut, or a fertilized duck egg hardboiled and eaten at three weeksâ€™ gestation, feathers and all. (I didnâ€™t have one. I earned my stripes the previous day by tasting several varietals of durian, a fruit so foul-smelling itâ€™s often banned from taxis and public buildings. â€śSmells like hell and tastes like heavenâ€ť is what they say, and while the smell was pretty revolting, the fruit itself wasnâ€™t half-bad. Our van smelled like roadkill for the next two hours, though, so the value of this experience was questionable.)