We can breathe a momentary sigh of relief. This Monday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to maintain protections off California and Oregon for the critically endangered population of Pacific leatherback sea turtles. However, in 2014 these federal fishery managers will consider another proposal for allowing driftnets into sea turtle habitat southwest of Monterey, California.
At the meeting a few days ago in Tacoma, Washington, the Council considered a full array of proposals to expand the use of drift gillnets off California and Oregon and into an area currently designated to protect Pacific leatherback sea turtles. But Oceana‚ÄĒwith the help of our partners, and support of our avid Wavemakers‚ÄĒsuccessfully thwarted those efforts by presenting new science on the decline of leatherback sea turtles; by revealing scientific data showing massive wasteful bycatch of large whales, dolphins, sharks, and other fish by the drift gillnet fishery; and by bringing forward the public uproar over the proposed expansion of the driftnet fishery into a currently protected area.
Mile-long drift nets hang like invisible curtains in the water column to catch swordfish, but they unselectively entangle other marine life traversing through the open ocean. To numerically paint the portrait of this wasteful fishery, for every five swordfish caught in 2011, one marine mammal was killed and six fish were tossed back dead. When it comes to whales, this fishery takes many species, but one of particular concern is the sperm whale. The largest of the toothed whales, sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal and it is estimated that 16 of these amazing endangered whales were taken in the drift gillnet fishery in 2010 alone.
It's rare that the issues of longline fishing and bycatch make it to the evening news, but this report from CNN highlights a promising technology called buoy gear fishing that could replace the extremely destructive practice of longline fishing for swordfish. As you might guess, traditional longlines are long--miles-long, and sometimes set with thousands of baited hooks that catch everything from swordfish (both adult and juveniles) to endangered sea turtles, marine mammals, sawfish and sharks. Swordfishing in the Florida Straits, a major nursery area for baby fish, became very popular in the late 1960s. However, by the 1990s, swordfish populations had collapsed, with longlining banned in the area by 2011.
This video tracks Florida fisherman Tim Palmer's switch from longlines to buoy gear. Instead of thousands of hooks, Palmer sets only 12 at a time, which can be actively monitored for juvenile fish or protected species that might take the bait instead of the intended adult swordfish. If and when fishermen notice that this has happened, they can respond more quickly and minimize the potential injury of the hooked animal.
Despite recent successes with this new gear, the movement away from destructive longline fishing is not universal or even well-accepted by all fishermen. In the Pacific, federal regulators recently approved new rules, set to take effect November 5, that will allow longline fishermen targeting swordfish and tuna to incidentally catch almost twice the number of endangered leatherbacks and loggerheads that they entangle each year.
Oceana is fighting to prevent these new rules from going into effect and is pushing for responsible fishing practices that reduce bycatch around the world.
After a victory for Pacific sea turtles last week, here‚Äôs some not so good news.
Two endangered species of sea turtle are facing an increased threat after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved a plan allowing a Hawaii-based shallow-set longline swordfish fishery to catch more endangered sea turtles while hunting for swordfish in the North Pacific Ocean.
Currently, regulations allow a capture, or ‚Äútake,‚ÄĚ of 16 endangered leatherback sea turtles and 17 endangered loggerhead sea turtles per fishery per year. If and when turtle catch limits are reached, the fishery must close for the year. However, the new rule, set to take effect November 5, will allow a 62 percent increase in allowable takes of leatherbacks for a total of 26 per year, and a 100 percent increase in the catch of loggerheads for a total of 34 per year.
The timing for this approval is particularly paradoxical, as NMFS upgraded the status of the Pacific loggerhead sea turtle from ‚Äúthreatened‚ÄĚ to ‚Äúendangered‚ÄĚ little more than a year ago, and designated almost 42,000 square miles of ocean waters off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles earlier this year. The leatherback sea turtle was also recently designated as the official state marine reptile of California.
Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana, said:
‚ÄúThis decision is outrageous. On the one hand the federal government acknowledges Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles are endangered and that more needs to be done to protect them. At the same time they say it is okay for U.S. fishermen to kill more of them.‚ÄĚ
We agree, it‚Äôs outrageous ‚Äď and our campaigners are examining the available options in a plan to stop these measures before they take effect on November 5. We‚Äôll keep you posted!
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 benefits‚ÄĒit 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.
Editor's note: October is National Seafood Month, and to celebrate, we‚Äôll be featuring a series of blog posts about seafood, sustainable fishing and health. Today we‚Äôre taking on mercury.
Maybe when you think of mercury you think of old thermometers. But did you know that mercury in seafood can affect your health?
As a result of antiquated manufacturing techniques, a few chlorine factories release mercury pollution into nearby rivers and streams, which ends up in the ocean, where it travels up the food chain, becoming more and more concentrated in larger and larger fish, including favorites such as tuna and swordfish.
What‚Äôs the danger of mercury in fish? Mercury is a neurotoxin and can cause symptoms such as headaches, foggy thinking, muscle stiffness, dizziness, nausea, and hair loss. Mercury is dangerous for women who are or may become pregnant because children are particularly susceptible to the effects of mercury poisoning.
The best way to protect yourself and your family is to learn what kinds of seafood have high mercury levels and to consume these only in moderation. The Monterey Bay Aquarium‚Äôs Seafood Watch guide contains information about mercury levels as well as about sustainability.
We‚Äôve made progress over the years, both in requiring stores to provide information about mercury and in getting companies to switch to less dangerous ways of producing chlorine. However, mercury in fish remains an issue. Just this summer, Oceana was instrumental in convincing the Spanish government to release a study finding that more than half of mako shark and swordfish samples had dangerous levels of mercury.
You can learn more about mercury and you can also take action by asking Walmart and Sam‚Äôs Club to post safety notifications about mercury in fish.
Spain‚Äôs biggest newspaper, El Pa√≠s, featured Oceana prominently in this morning‚Äôs cover story. The article describes Oceana‚Äôs 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.
Here‚Äôs the back story: in 2003, Spain‚Äôs 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.
I hope you‚Äôre not tired of good news -- because we have another big dose for you today.
Olin Corporation announced today that it will phase out the use of mercury in its chlor-alkali manufacturing process in its Charleston, Tennessee facility by the end of 2012. Plus, the company plans to turn its Augusta, Georgia plant into a bleach plant and distribution center, discontinuing chlor-alkali manufacturing (and thus, mercury use).
The Tennessee facility is the largest mercury-based factory left in the United States. Built in 1962, Olin Corp.‚Äôs factory has consistently been the largest mercury emitter in the entire state of Tennessee. The factory, which produces chlorine and caustic soda, discharges mercury directly to the Hiwassee River and is likely the primary cause of the fish consumption advisory on that portion of the river.
Oceana has been working since 2005 to convince mercury-based chlorine plants to convert to cleaner technology. Since then, two factories have closed and three others are in the process of converting or have converted to mercury-free technology. With Olin‚Äôs announcement, there are now only two remaining plants using mercury - Ashta Chemicals in Ashtabula, Ohio and PPG Industries in Natrium, West Virginia.
Yesterday the 17th Special Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) began in Paris, France. Oceana is in Paris with this simple message for the ICCAT delegates: Restore depleted bluefin tuna and shark populations.
Oceana‚Äôs chief scientist and head-of-delegation Dr. Michael Hirshfield had this to say as the meeting commenced:
‚ÄúWe can not continue to let the demand for sharks and bluefin tuna drive these populations toward extinction. Immediate and proper international management is needed now or we will empty the oceans of these top predators and vastly change the oceans as we know them today‚Ä¶ Oceana hopes the next ten days are not wasted playing ‚Äėpolitics.‚Äô The science is clear and it is time to get to work.‚ÄĚ
And you can help us put the pressure on -- tell the US and EU delegates at ICCAT to increase protections for sharks and bluefin tuna!
Starting next week, the 17th Special Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will meet in Paris, France. It‚Äôs another year, and another chance for the international body to take greater action to prevent the extinction of bluefin tuna, and to better protect sharks, swordfish and sea turtles.
We will have a team of scientists in Paris, and they will be calling on ICCAT to do the following:
* Suspend the bluefin tuna fishery until a system is implemented that follows the scientific advice on catch levels, stops illegal fishing and protects bluefin tuna spawning areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean.
The decision follows intense campaigning by our European colleagues, who estimate that more than 500 vessels have been operating illegally in the Mediterranean, some with nets up to 12 miles long. It‚Äôs estimated that thousands of creatures, including whales, dolphins, sharks and sea turtles, are trapped by the indiscriminate fishing gear each year.