The Beacon

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Record-Setting Water Temps Changing Marine Ecosystems

Map showing shifts in distribution of many fish stocks in the Northeast U.S. (Credit: Janet Nye, NEFSC/NOAA)

The oceans are heating up, and marine ecosystems are changing because of it. Long before climate scientists realized the extent of impacts from carbon dioxide emissions, ocean scientists were taking simple temperature readings. Now those readings are off the charts, showing an ocean thrown out of balance from human-caused climate change. Sea surface temperatures hit a 150 year high off the U.S. East Coast from Maine to North Carolina during 2012. 

These abnormally high temperatures are fundamentally altering marine ecosystems, from the abundance of plankton to the movement of fish and whales. Many marine species have specific time periods for spawning, migration, and birthing based on temperature signals and availability of prey. Kevin Friedland, a scientist in NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Ecosystem Assessment Program, said “Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing and strength of spring and fall plankton blooms could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature.”


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Save Shark Week’s Stars

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Great white sharks keep the oceans healthy and balanced ©NOAA

Whether you fear them or admire them, most people have an instant reaction when they hear great white shark.  

Intrigue, mystery, and terror have guided attention on great white sharks since they lit up the screens in the 1975 thriller “Jaws.” The film made history 37 years ago for its chilling characterization of these powerful sharks, and swimming in the open ocean has never been the same since.

Great whites are making history once again, this time for their globally declining populations from bycatch in commercial fisheries, capture in beach protective nets, and slaughter for their fins, teeth, and jaws in the shark fin and curio trade.

Here on the US West Coast, new scientific studies have shed light on the status of great white sharks off California and Baja California, Mexico. Our great white sharks are even more unique than we thought; in fact they are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white sharks around the world. They congregate off Mexican Islands and the “red triangle” off Central California (including the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes, and Point Sur), and make extensive offshore migrations to the distant “white shark Café” and even to the Hawaiian Islands.

But, sadly there may be as little as a few hundred adult great white sharks remaining in this population, far less than anyone expected. This low population alone puts these great whites at great risk of extinction from natural and human-caused impacts. Continued existence of these West Coast great white sharks is threatened by their low population size, inherent vulnerability to capture, slow growth rate, low reproductive output, and the ongoing threats they face from human activities. This is why Oceana is petitioning the federal government and the state of California to list this population of iconic sharks on the Endangered Species List.

What is threatening great white sharks off California and Mexico?

Young great white sharks are un-intentionally caught as bycatch in commercial fishing entangling nets. Set and drift gillnets--which together target California halibut, yellowtail, white seabass, thresher sharks and swordfish--catch great white shark pups in their nursery grounds.

Since 1980, over 10 great white shark pups have been reported being caught in these nets every year. The scary part is that monitoring of bycatch on these fishing vessels is very low so take of these pups remains underreported. In other words, more great white sharks are caught than we are aware.

Additionally, young great white shark “pups” caught in their nursery grounds off the Southern California coast have the second highest mercury level tested on record for any sharks worldwide. These mercury levels exceed six-fold the established thresholds where harmful physiological effects have been documented in other marine fish. Levels of harmful contaminants of PCBs and DDTs in their liver tissue are the highest observed in any shark species reported to date globally.

Endangered species status will bestow additional protections to white sharks, including better monitoring and management to reduce fishery bycatch and additional research to further understand these fascinating top predators of the sea.

As much as we may fear them for their bad rap, we need great white sharks to keep our oceans healthy. Just as wolves keep deer populations under control, great white sharks play a critical top-down role in structuring the marine ecosystem by keeping prey populations in check, such as sea lions and elephant seals, benefiting our fisheries and abundant wildlife.

Listing the West Coast population of great white sharks on the Endangered Species List will help us learn more about the lives and threats of these amazing animals through additional research funding and protection measures.

Please help us in our efforts to protect US West Coast great white sharks from extinction by signing a letter of support for their listing on the Endangered Species Act.


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New Report: Seafood Fraud in South Florida

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58% of samples from sushi vendors in South Florida were mislabeled ©Wikimedia Commons

How would you feel if you found out the red snapper on your plate wasn’t red snapper at all, but instead something illegally fished or potentially unhealthy? A new Oceana study found that 31% of seafood we tested in South Florida is mislabeled, keeping consumers in the dark about what they’re really eating.

Our campaigners used DNA testing on seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach areas. We’ve conducted studies like this in other cities, and the results from Los Angeles and Boston were even more striking—55% of seafood in L.A. was mislabeled and 48% in Boston.

But just because the numbers are lower in South Florida doesn’t mean that seafood fraud is any more acceptable. Some of the fish being served under a different name pose risks to health and sustainability. The study found that king mackerel, a high mercury fish with a health warning for sensitive groups, was being marketed as ‘grouper.’

Sushi restaurants were the biggest offenders, with 58% of samples found to be mislabeled. All the samples of white tuna collected from sushi vendors were actually escolar, a fish species that can make people sick.

The large amount of seafood coming into the U.S. market can make it difficult to trace each item to its source. Oceana is calling on the federal government to ensure that the seafood we find in our markets is safe, legal, and honestly labeled. By implementing a traceability system, consumers can make informed decisions about what they put on their plate.

Sign the petition to fight seafood fraud and ensure you’re getting what you order.


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One Step Closer to a Fin-Free New York

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With your help, we can keep this from happening. ©Oceana/LX

New York state is the largest importer of shark fins on the East Coast, but if a new bill passes, this fact could be history.

This trade is driven by a demand for shark fin soup, which can sell for hundreds of dollars. Sadly, shark numbers are dropping worldwide due to relentless fishing for fins, and in many places sharks have their fins cut off while still alive (a cruel practice called “finning”). Finning is illegal in the United States, but the demand for fins in New York and elsewhere in the US add to the pressure. Imported fins can come from countries with less regulations, and many shark populations in the US are dropping dangerously low, with some hammerhead populations falling as much as 98%.

But New York is considering a bill that would ban the trade of shark fins within the state, and we’re so excited to announce that it’s moving forward! After a huge push by Oceana and other shark supporters, which included thousands of your signatures and personal pleas from Leonardo DiCaprio and January Jones, both the Senate and Assembly committees passed the bill. Now it’s up for a vote in the Assembly and Senate. But the New York legislation session ends this week, which means they have to act soon.

We’re still gathering signatures to send to New York legislatures. Please sign today and pass the petition along to your friends. The world’s sharks need you.


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