House Passes Key Environmental Provisions in America COMPETES Act to Strengthen U.S. Leadership and Hold Chinese Government Accountable
Oceana Applauds Efforts to End U.S. Shark Fin Trade, Illegal Fishing, and Use of Drift Gillnets
Press Release Date: February 4, 2022
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength (America COMPETES) Act of 2022, which includes key provisions to strengthen U.S. leadership on issues that threaten Americans, our oceans, and human rights, while also holding the Chinese government accountable and leveling the playing field for U.S. fishers. The bill’s provisions include 1) a ban on the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States; 2) closing the U.S. market to illegally sourced seafood and giving the government more tools to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and 3) ending the use of deadly large mesh drift gillnets in U.S. waters. This bill will now be conferenced with similar legislation that passed the Senate last June before it heads to President Biden’s desk for signing.
Oceana’s acting vice president for the United States, Beth Lowell, applauded the bill’s passage and released the following statement:
“This is a great day for Americans and for our oceans. The United States has long been a leader in ocean conservation. Ending our role in these destructive practices is a necessary step to show the world that we’re serious when it comes to protecting ocean wildlife, supporting responsibly managed fisheries, and leveling the playing field for U.S. fishers and seafood businesses. We applaud House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chairman Raúl Grijalva, for their steadfast leadership in championing this important legislation. We know that when the U.S. leads, others follow. We now look to congressional leadership to include these provisions in the final conference package.”
Background on U.S. Shark Fin Trade:
A study published in Nature last year found that global oceanic shark and ray populations have declined by more than 70% over the last 50 years, with overfishing as the primary cause.
The demand for shark fins incentivizes overfishing and shark finning, the cruel and wasteful practice of removing a shark’s fins at sea and throwing its body back overboard where it drowns, starves to death, or is eaten alive by other fish. Fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global market ever year. Just as rhino and elephant populations have declined due to the demand for their horns and tusks, the shark fin trade is jeopardizing the continued survival of many shark populations.
Although shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, fins can still be bought and sold throughout much of the United States. These fins are often imported from countries that have inadequate protections in place for sharks such as China, which still allows shark finning to take place in its waters. Not only are there fins from finned sharks in the U.S. marketplace, but the United States is also providing an economic incentive for other countries to fish for sharks in ways that are illegal in U.S. waters.
According to a poll released by Oceana in 2020, nearly 9 in 10 registered American voters oppose the practice of shark finning, and almost 80% support legislation to ban the sale and trade of shark fins throughout the United States.
As of today, 13 states, more than 45 airlines, 15 major corporations (including Amazon, Hilton, and Disney) and 22 shipping companies have refused to transport or trade shark fins. Nearly 700 businesses — including more than 100 dive shops and scuba businesses, several aquariums and SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment — support a national fin ban. Other support includes more than 150 scientists, 150 chefs, 140 fishermen, and 85 surfers, and surf businesses.
Background on Illegal Fishing:
In the United States, up to 85% of the fish we consume is imported. A report by the International Trade Commission found that the United States imported $2.4 billion worth of seafood derived from IUU fishing in 2019. IUU fishing can include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife, and fishing with prohibited gear. These illicit activities can destroy essential habitats, severely deplete fish populations, and threaten global food security. These actions not only contribute to overfishing, but also give illegal fishermen an unfair advantage over those who play by the rules.
IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive. In 2016, the U.S. government established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), requiring catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud. SIMP currently only applies to 13 types of imported seafood and only traces them from the boat to the U.S. border. In a new report released this week, Oceana shows that gaps in SIMP are allowing U.S. seafood demand to drive IUU fishing around the world.
Oceana’s recent investigations into IUU fishing surrounding Argentina and the Galapagos have helped demonstrate the impact of Chinese flagged vessels on the high seas. Expanded transparency and traceability are needed to ensure that only legally caught seafood is entering the U.S. market.
In January 2021, Oceana released the results of a nationwide poll finding that Americans overwhelmingly support policies to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Included among the key findings, 89% of voters agree that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as U.S. caught seafood. Additionally, 81% of voters say they support policies that prevent seafood from being sold in the U.S. that was caught using human trafficking and slave labor. Eighty-three percent of voters agree that all seafood should be traceable from the fishing boat to the dinner plate, and 77% support requirements for all fishing vessels to be publicly trackable. The findings show widespread bipartisan support for policies aimed at increasing transparency and seafood traceability to ensure that all seafood is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.
Background on Drift Gillnets:
In the United States, large mesh drift gillnets are currently only used to catch swordfish off the coast of California. These mile-long, nearly invisible mesh nets drift overnight and often entangle, injure, and kill whales, dolphins, sea lions, endangered sea turtles, sharks, and important non-targeted fish species. According to federal data, more dolphins were killed in this fishery in recent decades than all other observed U.S. West Coast and Alaska fisheries combined. The U.S. West Coast is the last place in the U.S. that still allows large mesh drift gillnets to catch swordfish, and large-scale drift gillnets are already prohibited internationally on the high seas and in many other countries.
In contrast to large mesh drift gillnets, deep-set buoy gear is proving to be a clean and profitable gear type for selectively catching swordfish. During the 2020-2021 fishing season, deep-set buoy gear deployed off California caught eight times more swordfish than drift gillnets and did not catch any marine mammals or other protected species. Drift gillnets used during that same fishing season caught and discarded an estimated 2,238 marine animals for only 160 swordfish landed. Additionally, only 15% of drift gillnet fishing effort was monitored with trained observers despite prior recommendations by the Pacific Fishery Management Council for 100% monitoring of the fleet. Even with observer coverage at an all-time low, two humpback whales — listed on the Endangered Species Act — were recorded caught and released injured by the fleet last year.
According to 2019 data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oceana estimates that transitioning the California swordfish fishery from drift gillnets to more sustainable methods of fishing will save at least 27 whales, 548 dolphins, 333 seals and sea lions, 24 sea turtles, and 70 seabirds over 10 years.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-third of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 225 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit USA.Oceana.org to learn more.