Federal fishery managers voted Monday to keep the U.S. West Coast Pacific sardine fishery closed for the upcoming commercial season. With an estimated 86,586 metric tons (mt) of sardine remaining and 150,000 mt necessary for fishing to occur, this will be the third year in a row there are not enough sardines to support a fishery.
By Claire Douglass
The Obama administration formally denied today all pending permits to conduct seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. Seismic airgun blasting, an extremely loud and dangerous process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean's surface, was originally proposed in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida.
This announcement follows several recent historic moves by the Obama administration to decrease America's dependence on dirty fossil fuels, including the removal of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans from the five year program (from 2017-2022) for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf and the permanent protection of important areas of the Atlantic and Arctic from future offshore drilling.
We thank the Obama administration for finishing the job in protecting the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling activities.
East Coast communities can finally take a well-deserved sigh of relief knowing that their ocean and economies are currently spared from dangerous seismic airgun blasting.
With offshore drilling off the table for the near future, there was absolutely no reason to risk the damage that would be caused by seismic airgun blasting in the region.
President Obama and Director Hopper should be revered for their leadership in transitioning the U.S. away from expanded offshore drilling and toward a cleaner energy economy, including the development of renewable energy sources such as offshore wind.
Over the last few years, Hopper and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have made it a priority to listen to all stakeholders, from the interests of the oil and gas industry to the East Coast fishing and tourism economies.
As of today, more than 120 East Coast municipalities, more than 1,200 elected officials and an alliance representing more than 35,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun blasting. These individuals and groups understand that nearly 1.4 million jobs and more than $95 billion in gross domestic product are at risk if dangerous oil activities occur in the Atlantic Ocean.
We know that seismic airgun blasting is dangerous. Seismic airguns create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean, firing intense blasts of compressed air every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks to months on end. The noise from these blasts is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, which is approximately the distance from Washington, DC to Las Vegas.
In addition to being extremely loud, these blasts are of special concern to marine life, including fish, turtles and whales, which depend on sound for communication and survival. Numerous studies demonstrate the negative impacts that seismic airgun noise has on ocean ecosystems, including reduced catch rates of commercially valuable fish and silencing bowhead whales.
The government's own estimates state that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of millions more.
In 2015, 75 leading marine scientists sent a letter to President Obama on the impacts of seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean, stating that "the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which approximately only 500 remain."
Today's decision comes from a visionary president dedicated to preserving the marine environment and furthering a legacy of action against climate change. We applaud the Obama administration for protecting the Atlantic Ocean for generations to come.
The Obama administration made another historic move today to decrease America's dependence on dirty fossil fuels, this time protecting the Arctic Ocean from offshore drilling.
In the newly released final five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management removed the Chukchi and Beaufort seas for leasing from 2017 to 2022. This announcement follows a similar decision in March where the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management removed the Atlantic Ocean from the five-year program following widespread opposition along the East Coast.
The removal of the Arctic Ocean lease sales comes in the wake of Shell's failed decade-long effort to explore for oil and gas reserves in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Despite spending billions of dollars, Shell and other oil companies have abandoned almost all of the leases they owned in the Arctic Ocean and there are no current proposals to explore for oil on the few leases that remain.
Oceana is now calling on the Obama administration to protect the Atlantic Ocean from seismic airgun blasting, an extremely loud and dangerous process used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean's surface.
"This is excellent news for our oceans, from the Arctic to the Atlantic," Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana's senior vice president for the U.S., said. "This plan means no expansion of offshore drilling in the Arctic or the Atlantic for the next five years. Oceana applauds President Obama and Secretary Jewell for their leadership in protecting our coasts from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling. Today's announcement demonstrates a commitment to prioritizing common sense, economics and science ahead of industry favoritism and politics as usual.
"We are hopeful that this announcement will help chart a new course forward in the Arctic Ocean. The decades-long push to drill in the Arctic has put this unique and diverse ecosystem at risk, cost tens of billions of dollars and created significant controversy without providing the promised benefits. Companies have been given every opportunity to find oil and have failed at every turn because of the extreme conditions and limited window for operations there. We now have the opportunity to put the old arguments behind us and work together toward a sustainable future for the Arctic region.
"This five-year program also recognizes that selling leases in the Atlantic Ocean poses unnecessary risks to the existing fishing and tourism economies in that region. While we celebrate this important victory, we must not forget that the Atlantic Ocean is still not safe from destructive activities like seismic airgun blasting. Seismic airguns in search of buried oil and gas create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean by firing intense blasts of compressed air every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks to months on end. Proposals to subject marine life to seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic are still being considered by the Obama administration.
"Along the Atlantic coast, nearly 1.4 million jobs and more than $95 billion in gross domestic product rely on healthy ocean ecosystems, mainly through fishing, tourism and recreation. As of today, 120 East Coast municipalities, over 1,200 elected officials and representation for over 12,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed seismic airgun blasting and/or offshore drilling. We are grateful for President Obama's leadership in turning away from offshore drilling. The president now has an opportunity to take one more step to protect the whales, dolphins, fish, sea turtles and other marine life that are at risk from unnecessary seismic airgun blasting. The time to act is now."
In the report, Oceana reviewed more than 200 published studies from 55 countries, on every continent except for Antarctica. The studies found seafood fraud present in each investigation with only one exception.
The studies reviewed also found seafood mislabeling in every sector of the seafood supply chain: retail, wholesale, distribution, import/export, packaging/processing and landing.
Here's an interactive map of global seafood fraud by Oceana:
The report comes as ocean leaders from all over the world prepare to gather in Washington, DC for the Our Ocean Conference next week.
Earlier this year, the President's Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud released a proposed rule to address these issues that would require traceability for 13 "at-risk" types of seafood from the fishing boat or farm to the U.S. border. Oceana contends that while this is a good step forward, the government needs to expand the final rule to include all seafood species sold in the U.S. and extend it throughout the entire supply chain, from boat or farm to plate.
"Without tracking all seafood throughout the entire supply chain, consumers will continue to be cheated, hardworking, honest fishermen will be undercut and the long-term productivity of our oceans will continue to be in jeopardy. It's clear that seafood fraud respects no borders," said Oceana senior campaign director Beth Lowell.
"The path seafood travels from the fishing boat or farm to our dinner plates is long, complex and non-transparent, rife with opportunities for fraud and mislabeling. American consumers deserve to know more about their seafood, including what kind of fish it is, how and where it was caught or farmed, and they should be able to trust the information is accurate. The fight against seafood fraud must include all seafood and extend from boat to plate."
The report also highlights recent developments in the European Union (EU) to crack down on illegal fishing and improve transparency and accountability in the seafood supply chain. Following numerous seafood fraud investigations for more than 12 years, as well as public attention to the problem, overall fraud rates in the EU appear to have decreased from 23 percent in 2011 to a low of 8 percent in 2015. According to Oceana's analysis, preliminary data out of the EU suggests that catch documentation, traceability and consumer labeling are feasible and effective at reducing seafood fraud.
A few of the report highlights include:
- In the U.S., studies released since 2014 found an average fraud rate of 28 percent, weighted by sample size.
- More than half (58 percent) of the samples substituted for other seafood were a species that pose a health risk to consumers, meaning that consumers could be unwittingly eating fish that could make them sick.
- The majority of the studies (65 percent) include clear evidence of an economic motivation for the seafood mislabeling.
- Asian catfish, hake and escolar were the three types of fish most commonly substituted worldwide. Specifically, Asian catfish was sold as 18 different types of higher-value fish.
A few of the most egregious examples that Oceana has collected include:
- Eighty-two percent of the 200 grouper, perch and swordfish samples tested in Italy were mislabeled and almost half of the substituted fish were species that are considered threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
- In Brazil, 55 percent of "shark" samples were actually largetooth sawfish, a species considered by the IUCN to be critically endangered and for which trade is prohibited in Brazil.
- Ninety-eight percent of the 69 bluefin tuna dishes tested in Brussels restaurants were another species.
- A 2015 German study found about half of the samples sold as "sole" to be lower-value fish upon testing.
- In 2015, a Santa Monica restaurant and two sushi chefs were charged for selling whale meat, including meat from the endangered sei whale. The restaurant, which has since closed, had labeled the whale as fatty tuna to hide its true identity when it was shipped to the restaurant in order to sell whale sushi.
"Because illegally caught seafood, some caught or processed with slave labor, could be making its way onto our dinner plates disguised as legal catch, it is doubly important to improve transparency and accountability in the global seafood supply chain," said Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana.
"The increased traceability and consumer labeling efforts in the EU point us to solutions that really do work to decrease seafood fraud, particularly in sectors and products covered by these legal provisions. The U.S. government should take note and issue the strongest possible final traceability rule. Only full-chain traceability for all species will ensure our seafood is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled."