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.
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.
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.
National Marine Fisheries Service to Maintain Protections for Critical Rockfish Conservation Areas
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a final rule to maintain approximately 12,620 square miles of existing conservation area in order to protect overfished rockfish populations off the U.S. West Coast. This decision was a direct response to scientific information submitted by Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). All three organizations are working together to ensure the recovery of overfished rockfish species and the conservation of ocean habitats. Cold-water corals and underwater reefs are among other seafloor habitats that will remain closed to bottom trawling under this final rule. Oceana, NRDC and other organizations have active conservation proposals before the Pacific Council that would designate parts of the “Rockfish Conservation Area” (RCA) as “Essential Fish Habitat” conservation areas, closed to bottom trawling.
Emergency Regulations Renewed to Protect Sperm Whales from California Fishery
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced emergency actions designed to protect endangered sperm whales from being caught in the California swordfish/thresher shark drift gillnet fishery. The regulations state the NMFS will shut down California’s drift gillnet swordfish fishery if a single endangered sperm whale is killed or injured by the destructive nets. Independent observers will now be aboard all drift gillnet vessels operating in offshore waters deeper than 6,500 feet (2,000 meters), where sperm whales are most often observed. The ruling also requires fishing vessels to carry vessel monitoring systems that track the real-time locations of all drift gillnet vessels off the U.S. West Coast.
Federal Fisheries Managers Vote to Clean Up Swordfish Drift Gillnet Fishery
The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to clean up California’s swordfish drift gillnet fishery by considering placing the first ever “hard caps” on the numbers of several protected species that can be injured or killed in the fishery. These species include fin, humpback, and sperm whales and leatherback, loggerhead, Olive ridley, and green sea turtles. The Council will make a final decision on hard caps in the fall for implementation in next year’s fishing season. The Council also set a target to require 100 percent monitoring so that all catch and bycatch is counted on every trip no later than the summer of 2016. Additionally, federal fisheries managers will consider bycatch reduction alternatives for all other marine mammals, sharks, and fish species that are discarded in the fishery.
New England to Require Bycatch Reporting
The New England Fishery Management Council also approved an action implementing the federally mandated Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM). In its final approval the Council included clear guidance to the National Marine Fisheries Service that bycatch information should be specific to particular stocks of fish and connected to the management of the fisheries. This is a significant improvement over past Agency reports that were far too generic to be useful. Without accurate and precise information about bycatch, fisheries managers cannot do their jobs effectively. This action by the Council recognizes this need and gives clear direction to the federal government that high-quality information is necessary. Oceana has worked for years to ensure that SBRM is implemented in order to improve information about bycatch and will continue to push for other necessary improvements before the Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology is put in place in early 2015.
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.
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.
Chile Establishes Science-based Fishing Quotas
In late December, the Chilean government announced the first set of science-backed quotas for 2014. With guidance from scientific committees, the Chilean government set quotas for four critical species of fish: common hake, anchoveta, sardines, and jack mackerel. The reductions are dramatic—the government reduced the quota for common hake by 55 percent, for anchoveta by 65 percent in specific regions, and for sardines by 29 percent in specific regions. Chile’s first science-informed quotas are a tremendous step toward reforming fisheries and ensuring that the oceans remain a plentiful source of food.
Sardines Protected By Better Catch Limits
After campaigning by Oceana and our allies, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted reduce the 2014 sardine catch levels by 33 percent to help halt dramatic declines in this important species. Since 2007, the Pacific sardine population has fallen by almost 979,000 tons and is at its lowest biomass in two decades, according to a population assessment released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in October. Declines in the sardine population will negatively impact the many Pacific species that rely on these fish for food, including Chinook salmon, bluefin tuna, brown pelicans, dolphins, and large whales.