Blog | Oceana USA

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
  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.
  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.

That's not an environmental group's message, though it might as well have been. It's the theme chosen by the United Nations Environment Programme for this year's World Environment Day, June 5. As UNEP puts it, the "theme asks that we make a choice as to how we want to treat the Earth's seas and oceans. It also calls on each and every one of us to act. Do we want to keep seas and oceans healthy and alive or polluted and dead?"

Photo credit Alaska, Alberto Lindner, NOAA

The oceans are vast of course, and our impacts on them many, so we are unfortunately spoilt for choice when deciding which issues to work on. It is heartwarming then that UNEP has highlighted deep water corals as a new Global Conservation Challenge, paralleling the focus of Oceana's ongoing Stop Destructive Trawling campaign.

The plight of deep sea coral and sponge communities has come to light only in the last few years, but has been so dramatic that several countries have already closed off large areas of the seabed to bottom trawling, the main cause of their destruction. These remarkable animals are very similar to the shallow water varieties we all love to snorkel over, except that they are found hundreds or thousands of feet below the surface. They are among of the oldest creatures on the planet, some having been around since before the discovery of the Americas, and others being old already when the Roman Empire fell. The vast majority of these communities are still unprotected from our more damaging activities.

Photo credit California, MBARI/NOAA

UNEP plans on releasing a report next month entitled, "Cold-Water Coral Reefs: Out of Sight- No Longer Out of Mind." Ring a bell with anyone? For those of you new to Oceana, "Out of Sight, but no Longer out of Mind" was the tagline of our deep sea coral report last year. The reports share other similarities. The new report, though not yet released, promises to expand on the information presented in our report. It documents cold water corals from areas as far apart as Galapagos Islands and Brazil and Indonesia and Angola, as well as in the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans off Great Britain, Scandinavia, Canada, and the US, and off Australia and New Zealand. It is also likely to strengthen calls for greater conservation of these spectacular deep sea communities.

So, thank-you to everyone involved with Oceana, in whatever way, small or large. It's good to see our work, enabled by you, paying off in such a big way.

UNEP's press release on Deep Sea Corals and Oceana's report are both available online.

I have found a healthier alternative to hallucinogenic drugs. Not only do I periodically read the newspapers, but when I run in to work in the morning, I listen to NPR. This morning's head trip was a "story" about the need to modify soybeans so farmed salmon could eat them!

Now, it's hard to keep one's thoughts in order here -- but how about: "Hey -- they're carnivores! They don't want to eat soybeans! Not even roasted and dipped in wasabi!" Or -- "If we need to increase soybean consumption -- wouldn't it be more efficient to just give them to people directly?"

I don't know who planted, excuse me, I meant alerted NPR to this story, but a little context might have helped. Why can't we eat wild fish?  Why does it make sense to "farm" carnivores?  Are there any pollution or public health issues?  

And of course, since salmon don't like soybeans, they are doing research on "modifying" the soybeans so the salmon can keep them down.  Oh boy. Now I'm not worried at all.

So -- it may not be news -- but its cheap, legal, and fun.