June 15, 2013

Today we’re featuring great news out of Juneau, Alaska! Our newest Mission Blue Hope Spot, the Bering Sea Deep Canyons is well on it’s way to protection after this week’s meetings with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

To give you the complete picture, we’re highlighting two blogs – from Phil Radford and Jackie Dragon of Greenpeace USA.  Read about how a coalition of organizations, together with 100,000 of you, and yes, even some big corporations spoke out, loud and clear – and succeeded in making a huge leap forward for the blue heart of our planet, and for us all.  

~ Ed.

A Breakthrough in How We Work to Protect Our Oceans

By  Phil Radford, Executive Director, Greenpeace, USA

The Bering Sea is known to scientists and conservationists as one of the most remarkable places on Earth — a home to sponges, coral, fish, crab, skates, sperm whales, orcas, Steller sea lions, and a vast array of other species all part of a delicate ecosystem extremely vulnerable to human activity. Take a look:

But here’s what’s new — as of this week, the Bering Sea is remarkable for another reason — it’s the impetus for an amazing breakthrough in the way we work to protect our oceans.

On Monday in Juneau, Alaska, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to identify key coral areas in the Bering Sea canyons and consider measures to protect them. While this may sound like a routine decision in a far off place, it’s anything but the status quo.

The council’s decision comes in the middle of an ongoing campaign to protect the “Grand Canyons of the Sea” from the impacts of fishing gear like massive pollock trawl nets that destroy fragile corals and threaten life in the Bering Sea. You may not have heard much about pollock day-to-day, but it’s in fish sticks, fast food fish sandwiches, and even imitation crab. It’s a big deal fish–in fact, calling it the “billion dollar fish” is an understatement.

This campaign, like most conservation initiatives, has gathered together numerous green groups like Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, Oceana, and Mission Blue. But what’s different about this campaign is that major seafood retailers like Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and, yes, even McDonald’s have looked beyond their next quarters’ earnings to the long-term viability of our environment (and their products.) These business leaders have admirably urged the Council to look further into the available science to protect the canyons from destructive fishing, because they too want the Bering Sea to have a sustainable foundation for the future. We know from what we’ve seen from the oceans around the world that a thriving ecosystem today can turn into a wasteland tomorrow without sustainable management, so the problem is urgent.

Photo: NOAA, a spotted seal rests on sea ice in the Bering Sea.

Photo: NOAA, a spotted seal rests on sea ice in the Bering Sea.

What else is new with this campaign is the truly remarkable amount of citizen engagement. This week, as the Council deliberated in Juneau, everywhere they went flyers, posters, and banners held by activists reminded them that more than 100,000 people were urging them to protect the canyons — an unprecedented amount of public input in this process. When Council member John Henderschedt spoke to his breakthrough motion yesterday he began by saying, “thanks to all who provided comments — your voices are important to this process, and they have been heard.”

If the industry and government operated in secret, who knows what it would take for them to work sustainably. But because Greenpeace and other conservation groups have been able to show the wider world what’s at stake in the Bering Sea, people have been able to decide for themselves how they want their world. Greenpeace has had the privilege of taking this message to the decision-makers in government and industry to create a new way forward, one that includes more voices than just that of the highest bidder.

The struggle to protect the “Grand Canyons of the Sea” is far from over, but on Monday in Juneau something remarkable happened, something that might just signal a sea change in how we protect our oceans.

Courtesy of Phillip Radford, Executive Director, Greenpeace via Huffington Post

Fishery Council votes in favor of the Bering Sea

By Jackie Dragon, Senior Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace USA

Yesterday afternoon in Juneau, Alaska,  the North Pacific Fishery Management Council took a huge step forward to protect the Grand Canyons of the Sea. Despite considerable pressure from powerful fishing interests – the Council will now move forward to identify key coral areas in the Bering Sea Canyons and consider measures to protect them.  Translation: we got what we wanted!


Photo: R. Angell (USFWS)

After eight days of relentless presentations and discussions on the canyons issue, with so many ups and downs I could not possibly predict where we would end up on this roller coaster ride.  The Council moved forward, unanimously, with two motions to begin a process that can, finally, protect the Bering Sea Canyons, and the vibrant ecosystem and productive fisheries they support.

Up till the very last minute industrial-sized fishing industry representatives, especially the pollock trawlers, fought tooth and nail to convince the Council that more research on the canyons was in order, but certainly not anything more. The catch phrase echoing around the Council halls was “they want to kick the can down the road.”

See photos of Greenpeace’s thermal airship flying over Council meeting in Alaska

We held strong. No, that’s not enough, we need action now! We know enough to begin the regulatory process to identify protections for the vulnerable coral and sponge habitat in the canyons. It is time to move beyond single species management to holistic management that considers the whole ecosystem and ways to insure its resiliency for the future.

The pollock trawlers tried to take Zhemchug Canyon – The Grand Canyon of the Sea! – off the table for protection. They argued that Zhemchug does not appear unique (you can find many of the same animals just outside the canyon), the slope is not very steep so it’s not even really a canyon, they said. And, just because we catch less than 3 percent of our pollock in the canyon now, doesn’t mean we won’t need to fish it harder in the future when climate change forces the fish northward.

Read more about the Bering Sea Canyons

In the end, they tried to sway the Council with a picture of Greenpeace’s airship – cruising peacefully over Juneau this week carrying a whale-sized message to all: Protect My Home – contrasted with 90′\s photo of Greenpeace activists on the water holding a banner in front of a massive trawler, protesting ocean destruction. I think their plan backfired; it appeared more like they we punctuating our points, highlighting how overdue we are for action, especially from the pollock trawl nets that are often described deceptively as mid-water nets despite the fact that they rip up seafloor habitat routinely.

Compelling public testimony was provided by our allies. The tribes were there too – speaking as eloquently as they do about the power and value of water, the source of life. When public comment concluded Council member John Henderschedt of Seattle, Washington made his breakthrough motion. He began by thanking all who provided comments, saying “your voices are important to this process and they’ve been heard.”

The Greenpeace thermal Airship A.E. Bates takes to the skies over Juneau, Alaska

The Greenpeace thermal Airship A.E. Bates takes to the skies over Juneau, Alaska

I promise you, they were seen too. Everywhere Council members went in Juneau this week they were confronted by flyers, posters in shop windows, newspaper ads, and activists holding banners telling them: “100,000 + people want you to protect the Bering Sea Canyons.” This unprecedented amount of public input in this Council process combined with input from a powerful coalition of green groups, tribal organizations, and even business allies like Safeway, Trader Joe’s and McDonald’s made this breakthrough action possible.

There is more hard work ahead, especially if the wealthy pollock industry continues to fight the implementation of measures to protect the canyons and advance ecosystem management. We’ll need to keep our wagons circled and be ready to send our ever-growing powerful voice forward at the coming decision points. Council members spoke to me after the decision yesterday, telling me that this major move forward would have been inconceivable without our involvement in the process as it was.

Many compelling letters were submitted; here is what one person from Seattle said to the Council:

“I am deeply concerned about the well being and state of our oceans. I strongly urge you to think of the future of our planet, oceans, and ecosystem – not just for us, but our children, your children, and grandchildren.”

A huge thank you to the more than 100,000 people who sent their voices with me to the North Pacific Fishery management Council this week. This is how political will is built to protect our beautiful blue planet.

For the Canyons,


Learn more at: Greenpeace Blogs

Some images supplemented by Mission Blue

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