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Obama Can End Sacrifice of Oceans for Oil and Seafood with New Ocean Action Plan and Policy

Conservationists to Seek Stronger Marine Protections
at Public Meeting on National Ocean Policy in San Francisco on June 30
1:00 – 5:00 pm, Hilton Union Square, 333 O’Farrell St. San Francisco

Ocean protection advocates are urging President Obama’s ocean advisors to shape a new national ocean policy that would end the capture and killing of endangered sea turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks and other marine animals in commercial fisheries and stop the sacrifice of marine life for oil and gas.

“There is no reason for sea turtles, whales and dolphins to die so we can eat fish,” said Teri Shore, Program Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN), an international environmental organization based in West Marin, Calif., about 30 miles northwest of San Francisco. “With sea turtles and many other ocean animals being driven quickly toward extinction, it is clear we need an immediate change of course in our ocean policies.”

Ocean advocates are joining forces at Obama’s National Ocean Council public “listening session” in San Francisco on June 30 to call for urgent action to adopt and implement a comprehensive national ocean policy. The groups will urge the Obama administration to prioritize specific actions with accelerated deadlines for the conservation of marine animals, habitat and ecosystems in the action plans proposed for the new national ocean policy.

A key element of the new national ocean policy will be zoning the ocean similar to land use zoning currently done on shore in a mapping process known as marine spatial planning. While the concept is generally supported by conservationists, TIRN says that marine zoning must prioritize the protection of swimways and protected corridors for marine life that is off limits to harmful fisheries, oil and gas drilling and new maritime commerce such as aquaculture, wave or wind energy, natural gas plants and discharges of any kind.

The new ocean policy and action plan should also add a plan for protecting human health specifically as it relates to consumption, testing and safety of seafood from our oceans and waterways, particularly mercury and toxicity in the fish we eat.

Examples of Why Salmon and Sea Turtles Need Immediate Attention

Endangered coho salmon in Central California are facing extinction due to dams, streamside development, water diversions, pollution and now climate change. The population in the Lagunitas Creek Watershed in West Marin, just 30 miles from San Francisco, represents upwards of 20 percent of all the remaining wild run of coho salmon in California, and this run is recognized as the keystone for recovery of extirpated runs of wild coho across the region. They are listed as “endangered” and are in need of urgent and immediate protections.

Outside the Golden Gate, the Obama administration has failed, to date, to establish critical habitat for endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles along the West Coast as required under the Endangered Species Act. In California, the swordfish fishery stretches deadly gillnets across coastal waters most of the year, capturing and killing sea turtles, sea lions, porpoises and other non-target marine life. In the Hawaii swordfish fishery, Pacific loggerhead sea turtles proposed for endangered listing continue to be caught and killed by longline fishing boats.

In the Gulf of Mexico, endangered sea turtles and marine mammals are dying in record numbers this year, mainly due to a lack of enforcement of fishing regulations combined with toxicity in the marine habitat from the BP oil spill. Yet no new measures to protect sea turtles from capture in shrimp fisheries or from oil operations and spills have been enacted. The fact that state of Louisiana continues to exempt its shrimp fleet from use of Turtle Excluder Devices more than a decade after use of these simple, inexpensive devices became a federal fisheries law is a prime example of the need for a strong and coordinated ocean policy.

Regulation of oil and gas operations must be completely re-evaluated and strong new protections mandated to protect sea turtles as part of new oil and gas lease regulations in the aftermath of the BP oil spill.

Companies such as California-based Chevron continue to profit and expand while destroying marine habitat around the world, including its massive new investments in Liquid Natural Gas projects that are being built on sea turtle nesting beaches and humpback whale calving areas.