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Sea Turtle Advocacy in Sacramento

Sometimes protecting the oceans and sea turtles means driving away from the sea, as I did this week on a trip to meet with California legislators, activists, and the Ocean Protection Council in our state’s capitol city of Sacramento. I was joined by super-star ocean activist and regular STRP volunteer Deb Castellena. We had a plan where we could split up and accomplish all of our many goals for the day if needed. Sacramento is always an adventure!

A massive press event was scheduled at 11:00am to highlight governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s strong support of state and local plastic bag bans as a means to improve the environment and save the lives of wildlife, like sea turtles. At the same time, I was scheduled to attend the rare public meeting of the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) to testify on behalf of our work developing ways to reduce bycatch from fisheries.  The OPC meeting started first, and Deb and I both were pleased to share our Gulf activism stories with those friends we could meet with before the meeting started. Once underway, Deb left early to set up her camera at the plastic bag ban press event, but I stayed at the OPC meeting waiting for my agenda item….and waiting.

California is working towards developing their own sustainable seafood guidelines, and the preliminary draft of their proposal, which we helped shape, was presented at the meeting and is open for public comment through January 18, 2011.

I spoke in support of zero bycatch of endangered, protected, or threatened species in California’s fisheries attempting to gain the sustainable certification. Yes, ZERO BYCATCH! This goal is clearly stated in the long-standing Marine Mammal Protection Act, and in reality, some fisheries already can boast zero bycatch of endangered sea turtles and marine mammals. Allowing only those fisheries to proceed with a sustainable certification is the best option to protect California’s endangered leatherback sea turtles.

I also made sure that the entire OPC and everyone in the room was aware that the California Drift Gill-Net fishery has up to 50% bycatch and recorded a take on endangered leatherbacks last year. This fishery targets swordfish and sharks, two species so high in mercury that we should not even eat them. Near closing my comments, I made it clear that we can be a trusted resource to the OPC for their needs to gain information on California’s deadly fisheries and the abundance of data we have on the contamination of our seafood by mercury from our Got Mercury? Project.

The OPC and other folks commenting were all interested in expanded contamination testing of our seafood for our own sustainable health and to perhaps clear-up some public perceptions about contaminants tainting local seafood in Southern California. We strongly support this position and will be working with the OPC towards achieving strong contaminant testing in the sustainable seafood program.

The plastic bag ban press event was a huge success! We were disappointed that the organizers decided against a sea turtle and oceans rally along with the standard podium and speeches, but we were happy to be there showing strong support. An excellent video compilation featuring speeches by Schwarzenegger, Brownly, and an articulate Girl Scout was shot and edited by Deb and is below.