Healthy Ocean Hill Day 2015: One for the Record Books
The fifth Blue Vision Summit was held in Washington DC last week. Every two years, the Blue Vision Summit (BVS) offers the chance for ocean conservation leaders to come together and work to build the blue movement in the United States, or as they say, “to restore the blue in our red, white, and blue.” This year’s Summit brought together ocean celebrities such as Dr. Sylvia Earle, NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathy Sullivan, and ocean explorers Fabien Cousteau and Paul Rose. It featured seminars on climate change, overfishing, plastic pollution, and so much more.
As part of the Summit’s Healthy Ocean Hill Day, over 150 ocean advocates spoke up for the big blue on Capitol Hill. People from across the country divided into state or regional groups and met with their respective Congressional representatives for a total of 163 Hill visits – a record for the Blue Vision Summit. The New England group met with 16 different offices alone!
In the meetings, advocates addressed two issues of particular importance to our oceans: illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. The ask was simple: support the bipartisan IUU legislation (H.R. 774) to put an end to IUU fishing and to cosponsor House (H.R. 1977) and Senate (S. 1042) bills to prohibit Atlantic drilling.
First, IUU fishing aka “pirate fishing” does not occur in U.S. waters, but is a worldwide problem with impacts on U.S. fishermen and communities, including in New England. Illegal imports increase the supply of fish in the U.S. market and drive down the value of domestic seafood. It is estimated that illegal imports cost coastal state fishermen and communities $2 billion in sales.
Although not as drastically impacted as other U.S. regions, IUU fishing negatively impacts New England fishermen and communities. A 2014 draft report from the Marine Conservation Institute1 indicates that the Rhode Island squid industry has a high potential for IUU impact. Also according to the same report, an end of IUU fishing would result in a $437 million revenue change and a 12,389 job increase for England (excluding Vermont). The data speaks for itself. Supporting stricter enforcement to combat IUU fishing would help level the playing field for New England and other U.S. fishermen as well as promote healthy ocean economies.
Second on the agenda, we expressed strong opposition to oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, for which Obama released a Draft Proposed Program in January. The plan proposed exploration and drilling in areas off of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, but the effects of offshore oil and gas development would be felt all along the east coast and throughout our oceans. Seismic airgun testing can greatly harm or even kill marine mammals, and oil spills and leaks threaten the health of our marine ecosystems.
New England is a region that relies heavily on its coastal economy, and therefore healthy oceans. According to NOAA, healthy oceans support 1.4 million jobs along the U.S. Atlantic coast. A spill in the Atlantic would be devastating to marine ecosystems and the communities reliant on them. Offshore Atlantic drilling needs to be taken off the table.
Running from office to office made for quite the tiring day on The Hill, but we can look back on this year’s Healthy Ocean Hill Day as a record setting success. We addressed major ocean issues that affect us all, and better yet we showed unity and power behind the ocean conservation movement.
1 Gravitz, Michael, et al. Plundering the Seas: The Damage from Pirate Fishing on US Fishermen & Communities, December 2014, Marine Conservation Institute. Draft Report. Table 1 & 3.