Today, hundreds of species of the ocean’s smallest schooling fish are protected from the shoreline to 200 miles out to sea and from Washington’s northern border to California’s southern border to ensure a healthy and productive ocean into the future. New regulations put in place on Saturday, April 15 by the State of California prohibit new fisheries from developing on certain species of forage fish from zero to three miles unless and until it can be demonstrated these tiny, but critical fish can be caught without causing harm to the ecosystem. With similar regulations in place in Washington and Oregon state waters (0-3 miles) and in federal waters coast-wide (3-200 miles), this action by California is the last piece of the puzzle completing sweeping protections that now apply to all U.S. ocean waters on the West Coast from shore out to 200 miles.
Today, federal fishery managers voted to keep the U.S. West Coast Pacific sardine fishery closed for the upcoming commercial season. With an estimated 86,586 metric tons (mt) of sardine remaining, and 150,000 mt necessary for fishing to occur, this will be the third year in a row there are not enough sardines to support a fishery.
Members of Congress announce the introduction of a new bill to ban the trade of shark fins in the United States. The bipartisan Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act of 2016 was introduced today by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-MP) and Ed Royce (R-CA). While the act of shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, shark fins continue to be bought and sold throughout the United States.
Effective today, NOAA Fisheries closed the Pacific Loggerhead Conservation Area—more than 25,000 square miles of southern California ocean waters—to drift gillnets targeting swordfish. The closure is intended to protect endangered Pacific loggerhead sea turtles from entanglement and drowning.
The National Marine Fisheries Service issued a final rule today prohibiting the development of new commercial fisheries for forage species in all federal ocean waters offshore Washington, Oregon, and California (3-200 nautical miles). These regulations implement a unanimous decision by the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council which voted in March 2015 to proactively protect forage fish.
Today, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) adopted hard limits on the number of endangered marine mammals and sea turtles that can be injured or killed in the California-based swordfish drift gillnet fishery. Oceana commends the Council’s action to safeguard sensitive marine wildlife. If too many endangered species are caught over a two-year period, the fishery will be shut down for the remainder of the fishing season.
Since 1987, Louisiana has remained the only state to not enforce federal regulations requiring that shrimp otter trawl vessels use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs)—openings in nets that allow turtles to escape when accidentally caught. But in July, Louisiana reversed state law with the passage of House Bill 668, allowing Louisiana state officials to enforce TEDs on shrimp otter trawl vessels. The Louisiana shrimp industry supported the bill, with the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force, made up of industry stakeholders, officially voting in favor of reversing the 1987 law partly to help improve the conservation rating of their shrimp. Oceana has previously exposed the amount of bycatch in the Southeast Shrimp Trawl Fishery, and has worked for years to get Louisiana on board with federal law.
Texas became the 10th state in the U.S. to ban the sale of shark fins after signing a house bill into law. Texas had recently emerged as a hub for shark fins, with the state’s fin trade growing by 240 percent since 2010. This move also makes Texas the first state in the Gulf region to pass a shark fin sale ban, and follows several fin trade bans in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Washington. Shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, but most states still import and export fins. The shark fin trade is largely responsible for millions of shark deaths per year and is significantly driving their decline. Oceana has campaigned against the shark fin trade for years, and has previously won victories at the state and Federal levels to establish and uphold shark fin bans in other states.
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved a proposal to protect over 35,000 square miles of ocean habitat, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Kentucky, from trawl and dredge fishing where deep sea corals live. This strategy is part of a coral conservation plan to protect known coral areas from current fishing efforts. Oceana has been working for more than a decade to identify and protect deep-sea corals from harmful fishing gears in United States waters and around the world.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted for a slight reduction to the Pacific halibut bycatch limits of the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) groundfish fisheries. In the last 10 years (2004-2013), approximately 82 million pounds of mostly juvenile halibut have been wasted as bycatch in the federal groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea. The amount of halibut discarded as bycatch by the groundfish fisheries still exceeds the catch of the halibut fisheries in the region that catch halibut for human consumption. The action may result in an approximately 11 percent reduction from the average halibut bycatch, and might save up to 645,000 pounds of halibut from being wasted next year. The lower halibut bycatch limits may be in place by 2016 and would mostly affect the industrial bottom trawl fleet that catch large volumes of lower value flatfish for export to Asia.