Andrew Sharpless

Andrew Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana, the world's largest international nonprofit dedicated to ocean conservation. Visit


Report confirms fisheries are suffering, but offers hope

More than half the world’s fisheries are overexploited, and small-scale fisheries, the kind that disproportionately feed the world’s hungry (think of reef-fish which are decimated by industrial-sized fishing vessels) have it the worst according to a new study published last week by researchers at the University of California and the University of Washington. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Fisheries are not doomed to collapse. Quite the opposite. The same study argues that simple conservation measures — from setting fishing quotas to protecting habitat — could actually increase fishery yields …


Everyone wants a piece of Belize

One day in December, the residents of the seaside village of Punta Gorda in Belize looked out to the horizon and saw something unexpected: Jamaican fishing boats. They had arrived, unannounced and without permits, to fish in Belize’s diverse waters. Many of Punta Gorda’s local fishermen still work the shallow waters inside the Belize Barrier Reef from individual canoes using age-old methods to provide lobster, shellfish and reef fish for Belizeans, as well as a small but thriving export business. The Jamaican boats, with more sophisticated commercial gear, offered no such promise for the local economy or the continued sustainability …

Searching for that long lost barrel of oil

Florida’s beaches now threatened by offshore drilling

In a disappointing move, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee gave its blessing for offshore drilling in Florida last week, potentially opening Florida’s coasts to oil and gas development. This is a major reversal that reneges on the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, which offered the oil and gas industry rights to 8.2 million acres in the eastern Gulf in exchange for the protection of coastal eastern Gulf waters. It also precluded drilling in the remainder of the Gulf Coast and the Florida Panhandle from 125 to 150 miles from shore. This agreement was supposed …

Mercury (Legislation) Rising

Mercury bill clears major hurdle

Great news – we’re one giant step closer to ending needless mercury pollution from chlorine plants in the United States. On Wednesday, the Mercury Pollution Reduction Act (HR 2190) passed a subcommittee vote that allows it to now be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce committee. The majority of bills die, unsung, in subcommittees. Now the act, which would phase out mercury pollution from chlorine plants within two years of its passage, has a very good fighting chance at becoming law. In the process, two amendments that would have seriously crippled this important bill were defeated. …

a watery end

Oceans’ alarm: what the sea is trying to tell us

Recently, I read about a professor at Columbia who teaches a course about the signs of the apocalypse. With the financial collapse and threats of a swine flu pandemic in mind, he told the New Yorker he decided to create the class because “now seemed like a good time.” I don’t know if Professor Taussig’s students have looked toward the oceans for signs of the apocalypse, but if they do, the students will find unsettling news coming from the marine world. Whether you believe in end times or not, the oceans are sending clear signals that they are in distress. …

Exxon redux

The ocean does represent a major source of energy, just not the one you’re thinking of

In the minutes after midnight on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez poured 10.8 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The spill turned pristine spruce-lined waters into a sticky death trap for countless animals, including a quarter of a million birds. Yet two decades later, the lessons of Exxon Valdez have not been learned. Our oceans and wildlife are no safer from catastrophic oil spills at a time when fossil fuel-based energy makes less sense than ever. After Exxon Valdez, President George H.W. Bush enacted moratoria on new drilling on the outer continental shelf of the lower …

Third time's the charm for Obama

Former Washington Gov. Locke would bring a strong voice for oceans to Commerce

If President Barack Obama's third choice for Commerce Secretary sticks, we will have a knowledgeable voice as the secretary who oversees much of the nation's oceans management, including fisheries. Coming from a coastal state, former Washington Governor Gary Locke should appreciate the importance of our oceans to the people of the United States and the health of our nation's economy.

Arctic freeze

The pristine U.S. Arctic has been protected from industrial fishing

It's a watershed day for Arctic conservation. Facing dramatic evidence of climate change in the Arctic, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously on Thursday to prevent the expansion of industrial fishing into all U.S. waters north of the Bering Strait. There are no large-scale commercial fisheries currently operating in the U.S. Arctic, and now there won't be. Nearly 200,000 square miles of pristine Arctic waters -- an area bigger than California -- will remain untouched by the extensive fishing nets, miles of hooked longlines, and destructive bottom trawls of industrial fishing. This means that the unknown but crucial fish species such as Arctic cod will stay put as the heart of the ecosystem.

Feds flounder on Flipper

Report shows that feds have failed to protect marine mammals, even though it's required by law

Pity the poor false killer whale. Fishermen in Hawaii who set longlines studded with thousands of hooks over dozens of miles often snag the whales -- actually large dolphins -- instead of their desired tuna or swordfish. Even the federal government, in the form of the National Marine Fisheries Service, acknowledges that the false killer whale is seriously threatened by longline fishing. NMFS has named the whale a top priority for protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In 2004, NMFS determined the fishery was killing false killer whales at a level that mandated action under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, yet the agency has yet to attempt to solve the problem. The Hawaiian longline fishery continues killing false killer whales, unabatedly. And this isn't an isolated scenario. In a scathing new report [PDF], the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that NMFS has failed to follow through on the directives of the Marine Mammal Protection Act on numerous levels, primarily thanks to a lack of funding and inadequate data.

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