Since 2001, Oceana has achieved dozens of concrete policy victories for marine life and habitats. From stopping bottom trawling in sensitive habitat areas to protecting sea turtles from commercial fishing gear, our victories represent a new hope for the world's oceans.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced it will be taking steps to more accurately analyze the amount and type of wasted catch in Gulf and Southeast region fisheries. Up until now, the fisheries managed by the Gulf of Mexico and Southeast Fishery Management Councils did not have a plan to put a requirement under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in place, which calls to have a standardized way to collect and report the amount of bycatch that occurs in the fishery. Oceana recommended developing a bycatch reporting plan for the region last month, and is pleased the federal government is moving forward with a proposal to better address the amount of wasted catch in our nation’s fisheries. In addition, Oceana identified nine of the most wasteful fisheries in the United States, which included two from the Southeast and Gulf region, in a report released this past spring.
Both the California Senate and Assembly pass seafood labeling legislation (SB 1138), authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), which will begin to tackle the complex problem of seafood fraud in California. It requires that all fish and shellfish be accurately labeled by common name, as well as wholesalers and processors label whether a species was wild-caught or farm-raised, and if it was domestically caught or imported. Oceana sponsored the bill, and in previous DNA testing found that California faired as one of the worst states in the nation for seafood mislabeling. SB 1138 is now waiting California Governor Jerry Brown’s consideration to sign into law. This bill is important to protecting human health, ocean ecosystems, and the economy.
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.
President Obama announced an initiative to tackle seafood fraud and illegal fishing in the United States. The announcement, which was made at the global “Our Ocean” conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, directs federal agencies to work together to develop a comprehensive program aimed at combatting seafood fraud and keeping illegal fish out of the U.S. market. Since 2011, Oceana has worked to expose seafood fraud in the U.S. In a nationwide study released last year, Oceana found that 33 percent of the more than 1,200 seafood samples it tested were mislabeled, according to Food and Drug Administration guidelines. Oceana hails today’s announcement as a huge victory for our wallets, our health, and our oceans.
The California Senate passed seafood labeling legislation (SB 1138), with unanimous support. SB 1138 will begin to solve the complex problem of seafood fraud by requiring that all fish and shellfish be accurately labeled by their common names. Oceana works to expose seafood fraud in the U.S. and applauds the California senate for their widespread support. SB 1138 will now be considered by the state Assembly, where it must receive a unanimous vote by August 31 in order to go to the Governor’s desk for consideration.
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.