Since 2001, Oceana has achieved hundreds of concrete policy victories for marine life and habitats. From stopping bottom trawling in sensitive habitat areas to protecting sea turtles from commercial fishing gear, our victories represent a new hope for the world's oceans.
Federal Government Takes Action to Recover Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finalized regulations that help recover the western Atlantic bluefin tuna population, which have declined by more than 80 percent in recent decades from overfishing and bycatch. As part of the Final Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, NMFS will now close certain parts of the Gulf of Mexico and areas off North Carolina during the spring to protect spawning bluefin from longlines. In addition, the federal government is also implementing a strict limit on bluefin bycatch. Once fishermen reach their individual quota on bluefin bycatch, they will have to either stop fishing activity or obtain additional quota from other fishermen. Finally, NMFS will also require video cameras on longline fishing vessels to help improve data collection that currently relies solely on outside observer coverage.
Presidential Task Force Releases Strong Recommendations on Seafood Fraud and Illegal Fishing
President Obama’s Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud delivered its draft recommendations, and were hailed as being a strong and robust first step at tackling these issues. The recommendations included domestic and international measures that help ensure seafood sold in the United States is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled—such as strengthening enforcement and increasing collaboration between state and federal governments, industry groups and more. The president established the task force in June at the global “Our Ocean” conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. Oceana has actively worked to combat seafood fraud since 2011, and has released several reports on the issue, created a map that reflects that most comprehensive literature review on seafood fraud to-date, and submitted comments to the President’s Task Force this past fall.
Oceana, Google, and SkyTruth Announce Global Fishing Watch
Oceana, Google, and SkyTruth partnered to announce Global Fishing Watch, a new big-data technology platform that provides an unprecedented global view of commercial fishing and human interaction with the oceans. It draws on data from the Automatic Identification System to analyze the identity, speed, and direction of vessels, with some specific applications including identifying vessels operating illegally without a license and those that may be falsely reporting catches, as well as pinpointing areas where large numbers of vessels converge. The technology will give citizens a free and easy-to-use online platform to visualize and track fishing activity worldwide, and will have uses for every day citizens to fishery managers and advocacy groups. The trio unveiled a prototype of the technology this November at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney.
Federal Government to Better Monitor Amount of Wasted Catch in Southeast and Gulf Fisheries
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced it will be taking steps to more accurately analyze the amount and type of wasted catch in Gulf and Southeast region fisheries. Up until now, the fisheries managed by the Gulf of Mexico and Southeast Fishery Management Councils did not have a plan to put a requirement under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in place, which calls to have a standardized way to collect and report the amount of bycatch that occurs in the fishery. Oceana recommended developing a bycatch reporting plan for the region last month, and is pleased the federal government is moving forward with a proposal to better address the amount of wasted catch in our nation’s fisheries. In addition, Oceana identified nine of the most wasteful fisheries in the United States, which included two from the Southeast and Gulf region, in a report released this past spring.
Loggerhead Sea Turtles Win Largest Critical Habitat Designation To-Date
In the largest designation of critical habitat to-date, threatened loggerhead sea turtles gained federal protection of critical habitat along the Atlantic coast and Gulf states—an area including 685 miles of beaches from Mississippi to North Carolina and more than 300,000 square miles of ocean habitat. The federal government designated these important nesting beaches and ocean waters off several states as protected areas essential for loggerhead recovery, which does not restrict public access to these areas, but requires all federal activities within the critical habitat go through an extra review process. The ruling is a direct result of a lawsuit filed in January 2013 by Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Turtle Island Restoration Network after the government failed to respond to petitions to strengthen protections for loggerhead populations dating back to 2007.
Swordfish Drift Gillnet Fishery Restricted to Protect Loggerhead Sea Turtles
From July 25 through August 31, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued an area closure for the swordfish drift gillnet fishery off Southern California to prevent entanglements and drowning of endangered loggerhead sea turtles with these nets. During years of El Niño conditions, endangered loggerhead sea turtles move farther north than normal to the nutrient-rich waters off Southern California in search of their preferred prey, pelagic red crabs. NMFS is required by law to close the more than 25,000-square-mile Pacific Loggerhead Conservation Area to protect the sea turtles during June, July, and August when an El Niño event is occurring or forecasted. The closure came after Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Turtle Island Restoration Network called upon NMFS in a letter urging them to implement this important closure.
California Legislature Passes Seafood Labeling Bill with Bi-Partisan Support
Both the California Senate and Assembly pass seafood labeling legislation (SB 1138), authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), which will begin to tackle the complex problem of seafood fraud in California. It requires that all fish and shellfish be accurately labeled by common name, as well as wholesalers and processors label whether a species was wild-caught or farm-raised, and if it was domestically caught or imported. Oceana sponsored the bill, and in previous DNA testing found that California faired as one of the worst states in the nation for seafood mislabeling. SB 1138 is now waiting California Governor Jerry Brown’s consideration to sign into law. This bill is important to protecting human health, ocean ecosystems, and the economy.
Fishery Management Council Rejects Proposal to Expand Drift Gillnets
The Pacific Fishery Management Council decided to cease consideration of a proposal to expand the use of deadly drift gillnets off California and instead requested extension of emergency regulations that went into effect last year to protect endangered sperm whales from entrapment in drift gillnets, until permanent protections are implemented. Oceana provided testimony at the meeting and is co-sponsoring the bill to eliminate these mile-long ‘walls of death’ off California and replace them with cleaner and more selective gear types to ensure a vibrant, healthy, sustainable marine ecosystem and ocean-based economy into the future. This bill will prohibit the use of drift gillnets to take swordfish or sharks while allowing continued fishing for swordfish and sharks with hand-held hook and lines, harpoons, and experimental gears. The bill also establishes a new state policy to support a federal prohibition on drift gillnets off the U.S. West Coast. This effort is long overdue.
Oceana Wins Bycatch Victories From Northeast Fisheries Managers
The New England Fishery Management Council took an important step forward for ocean conservation by agreeing to allocate $800,000 to support fishery research in the struggling groundfish fishery for cod, haddock and flounder. The Council has funds to support several projects and included bycatch reduction and solutions as themes in the call for research proposals.
This action comes only a month after Oceana released a report exposing nine of the dirtiest bycatch fisheries in the U.S., which included two New England fisheries—the Northeast Bottom Trawl and New England and Mid-Atlantic Gillnet fisheries, which discard 35 percent and 16 percent of what they catch, respectively.
Recommendations adopted by the Council include solutions Oceana had called for in the report, such as bycatch avoidance, like hotspot identification and management, and bycatch minimization through gear improvements. Additionally, in response to intense industry interest in fishing in areas currently closed, the Council included guidance to safeguard marine habitats in any research funded in this program.
President Obama Announces Initiative to Tackle Seafood Fraud at Global “Our Ocean” Conference
President Obama announced an initiative to tackle seafood fraud and illegal fishing in the United States. The announcement, which was made at the global “Our Ocean” conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, directs federal agencies to work together to develop a comprehensive program aimed at combatting seafood fraud and keeping illegal fish out of the U.S. market. Since 2011, Oceana has worked to expose seafood fraud in the U.S. In a nationwide study released last year, Oceana found that 33 percent of the more than 1,200 seafood samples it tested were mislabeled, according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines. Oceana hails today’s announcement as a huge victory for our wallets, our health, and our oceans.