December 29, 2020
CEO Note: A look back at 2020, a year we’ll never forget
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BY: Andy Sharpless
2020 has been a tumultuous year for all of us, including for Oceana. I am pleased to report that it has also been a successful year of ocean conservation policymaking.
Since March, our staff around the world have been campaigning from home. Despite this, together with our allies, we have won important policy changes that promote responsible fishing, protect habitat, increase transparency, and curb pollution. You will be encouraged by this brief annual overview.
Ending Destructive Gillnet Fishing in Belize and California
The Belize Government protected its waters from gillnets, a dangerous gear that indiscriminately catches and kills nearly everything it entangles, including manatees and turtles. Our essential allies in this battle were many local fishers who understood up close how destructive and wasteful gillnets are. The few remaining gillnets fishers’ will be assisted in transitioning away from the gear and finding alternative livelihoods. With this victory, Belize and its iconic reef are now protected from gillnets, trawling, and offshore oil drilling.
Off the coast of California in the United States, large mesh drift gillnets targeting swordfish have been killing endangered sea turtles, whales, and other non-targeted marine life for years. This fishery kills more dolphins than all other observed U.S. West Coast and Alaska fisheries combined. NOAA Fisheries published a final rule early this year to implement strict limits – known as hard caps – on the number of whales, sea turtles, and dolphins that can be injured or killed in the swordfish drift gillnet fishery. In September, Oceana transferred $1 million to the state of California to end the destructive swordfish drift gillnet fishery for good. The money will be used to implement the 2018 law – which passed following campaigning by Oceana – that established a program to destroy and recycle the nets, compensate fishermen, and incentivize the use of cleaner gear to catch swordfish. And just this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill – already passed by the U.S. Senate – that would outlaw this destructive gear nationwide.
Protecting Deep-Sea Corals in the Gulf of Mexico and Chile’s Pristine Patagonia
Oceana has been campaigning to identify and protect deep-sea coral areas from destructive fishing methods like bottom trawling. In October, NOAA Fisheries protected 13 coral areas in the Gulf of Mexico – nearly 500 square miles of coral habitat. This brings the total protected deep-sea coral from Rhode Island to Texas to more than 61,000 square miles. Protecting these deep-sea corals will help keep them healthy, and ultimately help sustain robust fisheries and ocean ecosystems for years to come.
In Chile, we were successful in our fight to stop the expansion of dirty and destructive salmon farming into pristine Patagonian fjords of the Los Lagos and Aysen regions. Salmon aquaculture, especially as conducted in Chile, can devastate marine environments and produce a wasteful net protein loss when smaller forage fish like anchoveta are used for salmon fishmeal. Sernapesca, the government’s fisheries body, issued a resolution effectively ending new aquaculture concessions, including for farmed salmon.
Modernizing Fish Catch Data in Brazil
The Brazilian government formally launched online logbooks this year to increase transparency and to modernize catch data reporting for industrial fishing operations. This new system replaces the outdated and essentially inaccessible paper logbooks which, in some cases, were literally stored in the dark and forgotten. Because of this failed and non-transparent system, Brazil had not published its fisheries statistics for nearly a decade, which made the country one of the only top 50 fishing nations that did not provide fish catch data to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Oceana in the Philippines has made significant strides for greater transparency, after a rule requiring vessel monitoring for commercial fishing vessels were finalized, a measure that will protect 15 kilometers closest to the coast and all the islands that make up the country.
Curbing Plastic Pollution and Offshore Oil Drilling
In Belize, the Minister of Environment signed a law phasing out single-use plastics, including shopping bags, food utensils, and Styrofoam. Thousands of Belizeans depend on healthy, clean oceans, beaches, and reefs for their livelihoods – be it from tourism or fishing – and now this measure will help safeguard their futures.
In the United States, Oceana and our allies helped to pass a ban on Styrofoam plastic foam food and beverage containers in restaurants, grocery stores, and other venues in New York State. Plastic foam packaging peanuts were also banned. This type of plastic, polystyrene, is rarely recycled and can make its way into our oceans, threatening marine life and food webs. Oceana’s campaigning also helped pass 10 ordinances throughout cities in the U.S. to reduce plastics and to introduce the federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, a first-of-its-kind bill that would reduce plastic pollution at its source.
We also reached important milestones in Canada and Chile, with Prime Minister Trudeau announcing his intention to ban several types of single-use plastics, and the Chilean Senate unanimously passing a bill to curb plastics, reduce single-use bottles, and encourage the use of returnable bottles.
Oceana and coastal communities throughout the United States continued to draw a line in the sand against offshore drilling, which puts these towns, pristine beaches, and abundant marine life at risk of toxic oil spills. Oceana along with a coalition of groups filed suit in U.S. federal court and won a ruling stopping the government from granting permits for seismic airgun blasting – the first step toward offshore drilling – in the Atlantic Ocean. This practice is dangerous and deadly, producing one of the loudest manmade sound in the sea, which can injure or kill marine animals from zooplankton to critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Thanks to action by Oceana and hundreds of municipalities, President Trump also issued 10-year drilling bans for five East Coast states.
Despite difficult circumstances, I am pleased to make this report of what we and our allies have been able to accomplish for the oceans this year. The new year will undoubtedly hold many more challenges for the oceans and for the world. Many of the countries in which Oceana campaigns – Belize, Peru, and the United States – have chosen new national leaders. In European seas, in which Oceana has campaigned for over a decade, there is much uncertainty surrounding Brexit fisheries negotiations and how this will impact future abundance.
Next year, Oceana will celebrate 20 years of winning policy outcomes that protect our oceans. I’m confident that with your support Oceana can again win victories in 2021 that continue to save the oceans and feed the world. Thank you again. I wish you and your family a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season.