Blog | Oceana USA

California has the second largest cruise ship market in the United States, and the industry expects the number of calls (nearly 800 in 2003) to increase by 25% during the next decade. Currently lax state and federal anti-pollution laws allow cruise ships to dump inadequately treated sewage in state waters, untreated sewage 3 miles from shore, and wastewater from kitchens, sinks, baths and laundries (called "graywater") can be dumped anywhere without treatment.

Two bills are under consideration in California to combat this preventable pollution. Assembly Bill 2093 (Nakano) would prevent cruise ships from dumping graywater along the California coast. Just last week, this bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and now awaits a vote before the Senate Appropriations Committee. It has already passed the Assembly and is unopposed by the cruise industry.

AB 2672 (Simitian) would prohibit the discharge of sewage into state waters. The bill has passed the Assembly, and the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. It now awaits a vote before the Senate Appropriations Committee in August. Passage will be tougher because the cruise industry opposes this bill. The industry opposes it because it wants an exemption so that certain types of treatment systems can discharge into state waters. These treatment systems have been successful at treating bacteria but are not designed to treat nutrients.

Nutrients have a big effect on our coastal waters. Because of this cruise ships should not dump sewage (treated or untreated) into our coastal waters. In addition, it has been demonstrated that technology exists to hold wastes not only until the ship leaves state waters, but out to 12 miles! We will continue to work in California to pass this important piece of legislation.

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.