Blog Authors | Oceana USA

Blog Posts by: Andy Sharpless

You will be pleased to learn that in the past few months thousands of people have jumped in to help Oceana alert the public to the risks of mercury-contaminated seafood. Thank you for your terrific help.

Last week, Oceana honored two leaders whose actions have also helped consumers become smarter and healthier seafood purchasers. California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer and the national grocery chain Wild Oats Markets were both honored with the 2005 Ted Danson Ocean Hero Award for their leadership in preventing mercury exposure in California and throughout the nation.

By state law, California supermarkets are already required to post signs warning of the threat of mercury in seafood. For years, the state has required warnings on products that contain chemicals like mercury that are known to cause reproductive harm, cancer and other serious health problems.

Attorney General Lockyer has led the enforcement of this law. Oceana Board of Director's member Ted Danson praised Attorney General Lockyer, saying, "He has taken on all those who have worked to undermine its effectiveness, including supermarket chains, tuna companies and even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration."

At Oceana, we have asked why aren't there signs in grocery stores throughout the rest of the country? We are all equally at risk of ingesting too much mercury in our seafood diets.

Wild Oats asked itself the same question -- and did something about it. It is the first national grocery chain to voluntarily post warning signs in all of its stores throughout the United States. Sonja Tuitele from Wild Oats shared that its signs, "are simply allowing customers to make informed choices for themselves and their families."

The public needs to be better informed about mercury levels in fish. California's law requiring businesses to post warnings when products can pose harm to one's health is a step in the right direction - but we need more. All grocery stores nationwide should post these warnings now. If we are all aware of the risks mercury in seafood can pose to our health, then we can make better choices to protect ourselves and our children.

Oceana's Seafood Contamination Campaign sent letters to the heads of several major grocery chains, including Safeway, Whole Foods, Costco, Wal-Mart, Albertsons, Trader Joe's, and Royal Ahold, owners of Giant and Stop-n-Shop, requesting that they post warning signs in all their stores to help consumers make educated choices when buying seafood.

Two weeks ago, we teamed up with Turtle Island Restoration Network and went a step further. We placed a full page ad in the national edition of the New York Times. View the full image on our site.

Wouldn't it be great if even more people could learn about this?

If you are interested in underwriting the placement of this ad in your local paper, Oceana is willing to manage the project. Send me an email!

Like you, we at Oceana simply demand courage and competence from the people who are supposed to enforce the conservation laws on which our future depends.

Our faith in the competence of our political leaders is being tested right now.

Believe it or not, THIS WEEK the House of Representatives is planning to vote on a bill that will eviscerate critical protections of the Endangered Species Act. These radical changes undo measures that have protected wildlife threatened by extinction, such as whales, sea otters, and sea turtles.

Passed in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is widely considered the most prominent wildlife protection legislation in the world. It has been CRITICAL to the work we do to protect and restore the oceans, and is a bulwark against utter conservation failure -- the extinction of a species.

The 2005 bill is sponsored by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) and strips fundamental conservation provisions from the Endangered Species Act. On the ocean, its main beneficiaries include big industrial fishing companies that capture threatened wildlife, injuring or killing the animals in their huge nets. Among other things, the bill:

  • Eliminates protection for the land and water endangered species call home, territory critical to their recovery
  • Uses taxpayer dollars to pay industrial groups to not destroy endangered habitat and species
  • Weakens the role of science in defining what areas and species need protection under the ESA, allowing political appointees -- not leading scientists -- to decide which data can be considered
  • Bypasses currently required consultations with wildlife experts when evaluating threats to endangered species

Many marine species, and the habitat they need to thrive, have benefited from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The green sea turtle, for example, was designated under the ESA as being endangered with the threat of extinction just 27 years ago. Since then, the species has begun to rebound due in part to habitat protections established as part of the requirements for species listed as protected under the ESA. The eastern North Pacific population of gray whales was the first marine mammal "de-listed" from the ESA, this population having recovered to near its estimated original population size.

These and other wildlife protections' success stories are directly due to the design and implementation of the Endangered Species Act. We cannot let Mr. Pombo's bill destroy what you and I have fought for and continue to achieve in protecting and conserving a healthy planet. This bill will push species closer to extinction -- not recovery.

Click here to find out what you can do to stop this.

It is not, I believe, a coincidence, that Rep. Pombo's attack on America's conservation law occurs right now, while the news is filled with hurricane recovery, Supreme Court nominations, and reports from Iraq. Polls show that vast numbers of Americans oppose weakening conservation protections -- with as many as as 86% of Americans supporting a strong Endangered Species Act. Yet Rep. Pombo's terrible bill was voted out of his committee in the House of Representatives last week with virtually no press coverage. As a result, most Americans would have no way of knowing that this astonishing revision of our longstanding conservation law is underway. This is exactly what Rep. Pombo hoped for.

Please let your Representative know that you are opposed to Mr. Pombo's bill. If you want to know more about this bill, or its status on Capitol Hill over the coming days, please don't hesitate to send me an email.

[editor's note, by Jason] (This post is by Andy Sharpless, Oceana's CEO.)

We'll take John Tierney's challenge from his column in Tuesday's New York Times. Unless industrial fishing companies and polluters are stopped from pushing the world's fisheries into irreversible collapse, the price of wild-caught ocean fish will continue to soar. As the head of Oceana's Scientific Advisory committee, Daniel Pauly, pointed out in his book "In a Perfect Ocean," since 1950, the average price of North Atlantic fish doubled the CPI -- not counting subsidies.

US Fish Prices relative to 1950

Fish prices in the US relative to CPI since 1950

Colonists once fed prisoners lobsters. New Englanders grew up dreading cod cakes for dinner. I just bought two lobsters for $38, and Bluefin tuna runs $100 a pound in Tokyo.

Fish is a protein source for a billion people and should be renewable. But industrial fishing and weak government oversight are driving prices sky high. That means more boats and technology chasing down every last fish. I wish there were a deep-pocket with Mr. Tierney's convictions -- we'd use our winnings to protect and restore the world's oceans.

[editor's note, by Jason] (This post is by Andy Sharpless, Oceana's CEO.)

Eleven hard months of campaigning against Royal Caribbean. Oceana's demand was simple: stop dumping untreated and poorly treated sewage into our oceans! The company knew that technology existed to treat their waste water -- indeed it had installed this equipment on three of its 28 ships. We called on them to commit to cleaning up their entire fleet.

Two days ago, on Monday morning, I received a Fed Ex letter from Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean, committing to installing advanced wastewater treatment equipment on the entire fleet, to audit its performance and to publicly disclose the results of those audits. (You can read the letter by following the link above.)

While the company doesn't want to give Oceana credit for this decision, we're sure that our months of flying banners behind airplanes, recruiting almost 90,000 people to pledge not to take a cruise, leafletting passengers onboard ships in the middle of the night, and holding rallies in ports in both the Atlantic and the Pacific were key drivers of their decision. And we commend them for it! Mr. Fain and the company are doing the right thing, and the oceans will be cleaner as a result. They are the second largest cruise ship operator, and their example will reverberate through the industry for the benefit of our oceans and our beaches.

We are also continuing the fight for clean oceans by working hard for passage of the Clean Cruise Ship Act of 2004, which is federal legislation that would make sure all cruise companies using American ports meet the standard we fought to make Royal Caribbean meet. This is a good day for everyone who cares about the future of our oceans, and who is working to prevent the irreversible collapse of our ocean wildlife.