Oceana, Google, and SkyTruth partnered to announce Global Fishing Watch, a new big-data technology platform that provides an unprecedented global view of commercial fishing and human interaction with the oceans. It draws on data from the Automatic Identification System to analyze the identity, speed, and direction of vessels, with some specific applications including identifying vessels operating illegally without a license and those that may be falsely reporting catches, as well as pinpointing areas where large numbers of vessels converge. The technology will give citizens a free and easy-to-use online platform to visualize and track fishing activity worldwide, and will have uses for every day citizens to fishery managers and advocacy groups. The trio unveiled a prototype of the technology this November at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney.
Oceana kicked off its operations in the Philippines by hosting a conference, “The Road to Sustainable Fisheries Governance,” to discuss various perspectives on fisheries in the Philippines. Stakeholders from the government, the justice system, academia, and more gathered for two days to discuss challenges, impacts, and proposals on fisheries management, as well as share best practices in sustainable fisheries governance and effective law enforcement. Oceana vice president Atty. Gloria “Golly” Estenzo Ramos spoke at the conference, and will lead Oceana’s work in the Philippines to help rebuild the nation’s fisheries in partnership with native Filipinos. Other speakers at the conference included Oceana’s chief scientist and strategy officer Dr. Mike Hirshfield, Oceana board member Dr. Daniel Pauly, and The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources National director Atty. Asis Perez.
From July 25 through August 31, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued an area closure for the swordfish drift gillnet fishery off Southern California to prevent entanglements and drowning of endangered loggerhead sea turtles with these nets. During years of El Niño conditions, endangered loggerhead sea turtles move farther north than normal to the nutrient-rich waters off Southern California in search of their preferred prey, pelagic red crabs. NMFS is required by law to close the more than 25,000-square-mile Pacific Loggerhead Conservation Area to protect the sea turtles during June, July, and August when an El Niño event is occurring or forecasted. The closure came after Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Turtle Island Restoration Network called upon NMFS in a letter urging them to implement this important closure.
In the largest designation of critical habitat to-date, threatened loggerhead sea turtles gained federal protection of critical habitat along the Atlantic coast and Gulf states—an area including 685 miles of beaches from Mississippi to North Carolina and more than 300,000 square miles of ocean habitat. The federal government designated these important nesting beaches and ocean waters off several states as protected areas essential for loggerhead recovery, which does not restrict public access to these areas, but requires all federal activities within the critical habitat go through an extra review process. The ruling is a direct result of a lawsuit filed in January 2013 by Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Turtle Island Restoration Network after the government failed to respond to petitions to strengthen protections for loggerhead populations dating back to 2007.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to clean up California’s swordfish drift gillnet fishery by considering placing the first ever “hard caps” on the numbers of several protected species that can be injured or killed in the fishery. These species include fin, humpback, and sperm whales and leatherback, loggerhead, Olive ridley, and green sea turtles. The Council will make a final decision on hard caps in the fall for implementation in next year’s fishing season. The Council also set a target to require 100 percent monitoring so that all catch and bycatch is counted on every trip no later than the summer of 2016. Additionally, federal fisheries managers will consider bycatch reduction alternatives for all other marine mammals, sharks, and fish species that are discarded in the fishery.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced emergency actions designed to protect endangered sperm whales from being caught in the California swordfish/thresher shark drift gillnet fishery. The regulations state the NMFS will shut down California’s drift gillnet swordfish fishery if a single endangered sperm whale is killed or injured by the destructive nets. Independent observers will now be aboard all drift gillnet vessels operating in offshore waters deeper than 6,500 feet (2,000 meters), where sperm whales are most often observed. The ruling also requires fishing vessels to carry vessel monitoring systems that track the real-time locations of all drift gillnet vessels off the U.S. West Coast.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council decided to cease consideration of a proposal to expand the use of deadly drift gillnets off California and instead requested extension of emergency regulations that went into effect last year to protect endangered sperm whales from entrapment in drift gillnets, until permanent protections are implemented. Oceana provided testimony at the meeting and is co-sponsoring the bill to eliminate these mile-long ‘walls of death’ off California and replace them with cleaner and more selective gear types to ensure a vibrant, healthy, sustainable marine ecosystem and ocean-based economy into the future. This bill will prohibit the use of drift gillnets to take swordfish or sharks while allowing continued fishing for swordfish and sharks with hand-held hook and lines, harpoons, and experimental gears. The bill also establishes a new state policy to support a federal prohibition on drift gillnets off the U.S. West Coast. This effort is long overdue.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a final rule to maintain approximately 12,620 square miles of existing conservation area in order to protect overfished rockfish populations off the U.S. West Coast. This decision was a direct response to scientific information submitted by Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). All three organizations are working together to ensure the recovery of overfished rockfish species and the conservation of ocean habitats. Cold-water corals and underwater reefs are among other seafloor habitats that will remain closed to bottom trawling under this final rule. Oceana, NRDC and other organizations have active conservation proposals before the Pacific Council that would designate parts of the “Rockfish Conservation Area” (RCA) as “Essential Fish Habitat” conservation areas, closed to bottom trawling.
With Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature on July 26, New York became the eighth state to ban the shark fin trade in the United States. Shark finning is a brutal practice: Fishermen haul live sharks onto boats where their fins are sliced off, and the sharks are then thrown back into the water, alive, to drown or bleed to death. Current reports estimate that over one hundred million sharks are killed every year, most only for their fins, which are often used in shark fin soup. Taking effect July 1, 2014, the law bans the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins. Violations are punishable by up to 15 days in jail and $100 fine for each fish.
With his signature, Governor Cuomo closes a major market for shark fins, both as consumers and as a trading hub: New York City has been one of the largest markets for fins outside of Asia, and is the largest port-of-entry on the East Coast. Together with Illinois, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Delaware, and Maryland, New York has effectively closed the majority of the U.S. market for shark fin soup. Beth Lowell, Oceana Campaign Director said, “New York said ‘no’ to shark fins today. The widespread support for this ban shows that sharks are worth more in the oceans than in a bowl of soup. By reducing the demand for their fins in New York, we can help to protect sharks worldwide.”
As of 6 July, 2013, all sharks caught in European waters or by European vessels will have to be landed with their fins still naturally attached. Celebrating the arrival of the long-awaited, strict EU ban on shark finning, Oceana welcomes the new EU regulation’s entry into effect, on Saturday. It ends nearly a decade of battle to close several enforcement loopholes that had weakened the previous EU policy. In particular, an exemption used only by Spain and Portugal had allowed some vessels to remove shark fins at sea, which made it extremely difficult even to detect when finning had occurred. Since the beginning of its work in Europe, Oceana has campaigned for a strict ban on shark finning as one important aspect of improved shark fisheries management in the EU.
“At long last, the EU has a real and enforceable ban on shark finning, with global implications,” commented Xavier Pastor, executive director of Oceana in Europe. “The EU catches more sharks than any country in the world, and plays a key role in regional fisheries management organisations where finning remains an acknowledged problem. After ten years with a flawed ban in place, it can now make a serious effort to tackle the issue internationally.”