In the United States, NOAA Fisheries issued a final rule to protect over 25,000 square miles of deep-sea coral habitat in New England’s Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine from destructive fishing gear, following years of campaigning by Oceana and allies. The action protects centuries-old corals and fish habitat from destructive bottom trawling, which is like clear-cutting the seafloor. The area protected is roughly equivalent to the size of Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, combined, bringing the total protected deep-sea coral areas in the U.S. Atlantic to nearly 86,000 square miles. Oceana continues to campaign to identify and protect deep-sea coral areas from destructive fishing methods, while maintaining robust fisheries, as part of our “freeze the footprint” strategy.
For the first time, the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted ocean salmon fishing regulations to help save critically endangered Southern Resident orcas from extinction. Only 75 of these orcas remain, and their survival relies on the abundance of their preferred prey, Chinook salmon. Sixteen Southern Resident orcas have died since 2015, some showing signs of malnutrition and starvation. Chinook salmon populations are also struggling due to a combination of fishing pressure, habitat loss, and dams that obstruct spawning. Oceana and our allies campaigned for the new measures, which include fishing reductions and area closures if Chinook salmon numbers off the coast of Washington and Northern Oregon drop below 966,000. This will help ensure that Southern Resident orcas have enough salmon to eat.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife published new regulations to reduce entanglements of endangered humpback whales, blue whales, and Pacific leatherback sea turtles in the state’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery, following campaigning by Oceana and our allies. In recent years, whales have ventured closer to shore in search of food and subsequently into Dungeness crab fishing grounds, resulting in a major increase in entanglements off the U.S. West Coast, which can often prove fatal. At least 56 whales were entangled in 2016 alone, according to the federal government. California’s new regulations require closures or reductions in the number of traps in certain Dungeness crab fishing areas when higher concentrations of whales or sea turtles are present. The regulations also allow for the use of approved alternative fishing gear that lowers the risk of entanglement, such as “pop-up” or “ropeless” gear, in areas closed to conventional gear.
In the United States, NOAA Fisheries issued a final rule to protect 13 coral areas. These areas, which span from the U.S.- Mexico border to the Florida Keys, include a series of deep-sea canyons, reefs, and coral areas that have been identified as important habitat for iconic species such as sharks and grouper. This action comes following campaigning by Oceana and newly protects nearly 500 square miles of coral habitat, bringing the total protected deep-sea coral areas from Rhode Island to Texas to more than 61,000 square miles. Oceana has been campaigning for years to identify and protect deep-sea coral areas from destructive fishing methods like bottom trawling, which is like clear-cutting the seafloor, and has won additional victories in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Oceana delivered $1 million to the government of California to officially activate a 2018 state law to end the last large-mesh drift gillnet fishing for swordfish in the U.S. by January 2024. The law establishes a voluntary transition program for fishermen to surrender nets and state permits and incentivizes the use of clean gear. Generous donors including the Marisla Foundation, Cinco Hermanos Fund, Sue J. Gross Foundation, the Offield Family Foundation, and others provided the necessary funding to secure this victory. For years, Oceana and our allies campaigned for the California bill to end this destructive form of fishing, which is notorious for its indiscriminate catch of marine life including whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. Oceana is also campaigning for a federal law to end the use of drift gillnets nationwide.
A federal judge ruled against the Trump administration for violating federal law by failing to use all available scientific evidence to end the overfishing of dusky sharks in U.S. waters. The ruling, in response to an Oceana lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, requires the federal government to do more to end the rampant overfishing that has plagued dusky sharks. Dusky shark populations off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts have plummeted by at least 65 percent in the past two decades as a result of bycatch – the capture of non-target fish and ocean wildlife.
A Federal judge ruled in favor of Oceana in a lawsuit challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to withdraw a proposed rule to place strict limits on the number of protected species that can be killed or injured in the California-based swordfish drift gillnet fishery.
Despite 30 years of management measures aimed at reducing bycatch, the California swordfish drift gillnet fishery had remained one of the nation’s dirtiest fisheries, killing more dolphins than all observed U.S. West Coast fisheries combined. Thanks to a years-long campaign by Oceana and our allies, a new law will clean up the fishery, phasing out the use of drift gillnets through a buyout transition program and incentivizing the use of cleaner fishing gear. These measures will eventually eliminate nets that have frequently entangled, injured and killed marine mammals like whales, dolphins and sea lions as well as endangered sea turtles, sharks and other important fish species.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved a plan to protect over 300 square miles of deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico. The plan, titled “Amendment 9,” will protect 21 distinct areas, ranging from Florida to Texas, which scientists have identified as special coral habitats. Oceana has worked for more than a decade to identify and protect deep-sea corals from harmful fishing gears in United States waters and around the world, and has won victories for corals in the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific.
In a unanimous vote, the Pacific Fishery Management Council acted to protect more than 140,000 square miles of seafloor from bottom trawling, a destructive fishing practice in which heavy fishing gear is dragged across the seabed. This action will safeguard a unique variety of coral gardens, sponge beds, rocky reefs, and deep-sea ecosystems that provide nurseries, food and shelter for many species — including lingcod, sablefish, flatfish, sharks, rays and more than 60 species of rockfish — important for both ocean abundance and commercial and recreational fishing. This victory for ocean diversity will more than double the area of protected seafloor in U.S. waters off California, Oregon, and Washington. The fishery council's action will also restore fishing opportunities by opening some historic fishing grounds that were previously closed to bottom trawling while overfished rockfish populations recovered. This outcome comes after a decade of campaigning by Oceana and its allies and builds on previous work which secured more than 135,000 square miles of West Coast seafloor protections in 2006. Once these new measures are implemented, more than 90 percent of the U.S. West Coast's Exclusive Economic Zone (3-200 miles from shore) will be protected from bottom trawling.