Blog | Oceana USA

Controversy over sea turtles has moved to the most seemingly innocent and unlikely of places... Mark Trail in the Sunday comics.

For those of you who usually go for comics with an immediate punch line, Mark Trail was created over fifty years ago and teaches readers about various wild creatures via the adventures of naturalist Mark Trail. Mark tirelessly defends the world from all environmental evils, including polluters, poachers, and marijuana growers.

Last weekend's installment (June 20th) outlined the threat endangered sea turtles face from baited longline fishing hooks. Mark visits an administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries and learns:

"Scientists, working with the long-line industry, have come up with a hook that will save many of the big turtles!....By working together, NOAA and the fishing industry are saving turtles and an important industry"

Mark Trail easily distinguishes good guys from bad guys based on the presence of facial hair, but it seems that he has been duped by NOAA. The fishery service has indeed come up with a better and more efficient hook, but it is now retracting its proposal to require them. Using logic that would baffle Mark Trail, NOAA is rejecting three years of study showing that circle hooks reduce sea turtle bycatch by at least 60 percent.

Although good always triumphs over evil in Mark Trail's world, only when NOAA acts on the advice of its scientists will endangered sea turtles be protected from dangerous fishing gear.

Great news! The Chilean Congress has ratified the Protocol of the Galapagos Agreement (for conservation of living marine resources on the high seas of the Southeast Pacific). Parties to the Agreement were initially, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. This agreement might potentially extend within the region if ratified by all member states. Last year, Oceana's South America office encouraged and prompted the Government towards obtaining the ratification of this treaty from the Chilean Congress.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed on June 14, 2004, making secret part or all of some Environmental Impact Statements on its actions. The proposed directive, published in the Federal Register, would carve a major loophole in the 34-year-old National Environmental Policy Act -- which requires that the federal government publicly disclose the environmental impacts of major federal actions before they are taken. This comes a week after the House voted to allow an exemption from NEPA for projects that involve renewable energy.

Under the current law, the government is required to conduct a survey of the potential environemental impacts of any project, develop alternatives, and allow feedback from the public in their decisions. Changes like this undercut the environmental protections provided in the law, and the public participation in the process.

The U. S. Commission on Ocean Policy recently released its Preliminary Report, and in a moment of inexcusable oversight, failed to adequately address one of the most significant issues facing ocean fisheries today, bycatch.

Although the commission recognizes that protecting our oceans is vital to sustain life on earth, the summary on bycatch does not reflect its commitment to this cause. The excerpt on "Reducing Bycatch," thrown in just for kicks, is a mere half page of the 413 page report.

After stating that bycatch is "a major economic and ecological problem," the commission goes on to say:

"Nevertheless, the total elimination of bycatch from a fishery is probably impossible, and too great a focus on bycatch could inhibit progress on other issues more important to ecosystem functioning."

Hmm. Considering the serious impact of 44 billion pounds of wasted fish each year, the logic behind this inference is unclear. The report also fails to give any new, concrete proposals to reduce dirtyfishing, and instead recommends more plans and studies. All talk and no action? Sadly, the extent of the bycatch section eliminates "talk" as well.

The Commission appears to believe you can't lose if you don't try, but unfortunately, fishermen, threatened marine life, and oceanic ecosystems all stand to lose if the Commission refuses to take action and give bycatch the attention it deserves.

June 8th is the twelfth annual World Oceans Day. What can you do to mark the day?

June 8th is the twelfth annual World Oceans Day. Created in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, WOD is a day for people to reflect on the importance of the oceans in our everyday lives, from the fourth generation fisherman who depends on it for his livelihood, to the accountant in Tulsa who daydreams about escaping to the coast, to the tuna in your sandwich, the health of the ocean, its water, its sea-life and its habitat affects all of us. So what can you do to mark this day?

  1. Learn - about the wealth of beautiful marine life the ocean has to offer. Visit an aquarium, surf the web, visit the local library, or if you're fortunate enough to live by the water go out and explore first hand.
  2. Get involved - volunteer with a local conservation organization, from a neighborhood clean up group to organizations like Oceana and Greenpeace.
  3. Make wise food choices - is the seafood you're eating sustainable? Check out the good, the bad and the ugly of seafood on websites like the Seafood Choices Alliance and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's site at www.mbayaq.org/seafoodwatch.
  4. Transportation - walk, bike, carpool, use public transportation, swim (ok, maybe not so convenient) to cut back on the amount of pollution we put into the air.
  5. RECYCLE RECYCLE RECYCLE!
  6. Help get June 8th officially recognized by the United Nations as World Oceans Day by going to The Ocean Project's website and signing their petition.

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