The Issues

The health of oceans ecosystems is absolutely essential to human capacity to live sustainably. The natural resources of our oceans are the foundation of economic activity, quality of life, and national security. The challenges of oceans conservation are rooted in information gaps and are non-partisan. OCF believes educating the leaders on the critical issues of oceans conservation will bring all sides together to address the challenges in ways that preserve oceans’ beauty and cultivate their maximum economic value. From our network we pull together the latest science, progress reports from the most ambitious programs in the field, and the resources necessary to address the most pressing issues to oceanic sustainability. Our solutions are market-based, rooted in good science, and are founded on far-reaching networks of the most capable, dedicated organizations for each challenge.


IUU Fishing

Roughly two in five humans depend on fish as a primary source of animal protein, and many more incorporate it regularly into their diets. In order to meet the rising nutritional demands of a growing world population and strengthen local economies, commercial fishing must be supported by science-based conservation principles that benefit both fish and fishermen, and maximize the benefits of economic activity over the long term.

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Marine Biodiversity

Marine organisms are integral to almost all biogeochemical processes that sustain the biosphere, and provide a variety of products and natural services which are the foundation of the global economy and essential to our well-being. They are responsible for the production of food (about 100 million tons annually) and natural substances, ingredients for biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and even the creation of land.

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Protection & Restoration

Natural services provided by ocean and coastal ecosystems are fundamental to the prosperity of tens of millions of people who live on American coasts and a large swath of businesses indirectly connected to coastal economies, yet they are under threat from a variety of sources. Stewardship lapses have had major economic impact on surrounding communities, resulting in the functional collapse of certain commercially valuable ecosystems, including oyster reefs, fish stocks, and mangroves.

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Balancing Energy & Conservation

With continued economic growth, the world's energy needs are projected to increase by 50% in about 25 years. Solutions to meet these energy requirements will necessarily involve integrating many technologies, including oil and natural gas as well as alternative energy sources.

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Roughly two in five humans depend on fish as a primary source of animal protein, and many more incorporate it regularly into their diets. In order to meet the rising nutritional demands of a growing world population and strengthen local economies, commercial fishing must be supported by science-based conservation principles that benefit both fish and fishermen, and maximize the benefits of economic activity over the long term.

The challenge of maintaining healthy populations of fish in the global economy is compounded by those who do not compete on a level playing field. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is the term used for a broad swath of the biggest obstacles to sustainable interaction between humans and the ecological systems of which fish are a part.


Fish Fraud

Fish fraud, the mislabeling of seafood products, undermines responsible fishing practices and conservation efforts by making illegal fishing profitable and undercutting prices for law-abiding fishermen. Several reports estimate that about a third of all seafood in the U.S. is mislabeled, and fraud detection and prevention systems in place today lack the financial and regulatory capacity to police against short-weighting, mislabeling, or the sale of seafood that has been transshipped from one country to another to circumvent duties and tariffs. With widespread mislabeling of fish species, legitimate businesses are losing hard-earned profits and consumers are prevented from making eco-friendly choices. Concealing illegally caught fish through at-sea transfers, falsified documentation, and underreporting makes responsible fisheries management harder for governments around the world. Increasingly, members of the seafood industry are calling for systems that can provide both government and consumers the information they need to ensure that seafood sold in the United States is safe, legal, and honestly labeled.


Flags of Convenience

Flags of Convenience (FOC) represent another means by which fishermen skirt conservation measures and responsible fishing management rules, and are a major obstacle in combating IUU fishing. Under international law, the country whose flag a vessel flies is responsible for oversight of its activities. However, certain countries allow any vessel to fly their flag for a few hundred dollars without any intent to exert responsible natural resource management. FOC countries are typically ones without the means to patrol their own waters or are not members of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), and to which fishing regulations do not extend. Thus, pirate fishers use FOCs to conceal their operations and circumvent international rules and responsibilities designed to conserve and manage ocean resources. Further exacerbating the issue, registering for a FOC is quick, easy, and inexpensive, and can be done over the internet, which allows IUU crews to re-flag and change names several times in a season to duck authorities, a practice known as "flag hopping.”


Bycatch

Estimates of worldwide bycatch range from 8-20% of total catch, and some reports of worldwide bycatch discards are over 27 million pounds. This overexploitation of ecosystems has serious impact on the integrity, diversity, and productivity of marine life, and could lead to the extinction of valuable species and the permanent loss of livelihoods for millions of fishers.


Traceability

The U.S. system is not currently organized to verify seafood’s safety and origin through inspection as it moves through processing, packing, and distribution. In order to prevent fraud, consumers need to know where seafood comes from and be able to trace it all the way back to the sea. The huge tracking and enforcement gaps in U.S. seafood regulation provide ample opportunity for increased risks to public health and fish fraud, and encourages illegally caught fish to be sold in the marketplace.


Enforcement Issues

Enforcement issues for responsible and legal fishing practices stem from the lack of policing bodies that work in concert to oversee critical fishing zones and trade that crosses international borders. The increasing complexity and globalization of seafood markets have exacerbated the difficulties with ensuring that catch limits are followed, seafood products are labeled properly, and preventing unethical commercial fishermen from skirting regional fishing laws on the open sea. Fisheries management around the world depends on a steady stream of information on the hundreds of species being caught, as well as the financial and regulatory capacity to enforce the law. Many states have little regulatory or financial capacity to monitor vessels. In the U.S., no single federal agency is in charge of combating seafood fraud. Instead, a number of different agencies work disjointedly to implement a patchwork of overlapping and outdated laws.

Coastal ecosystems and associated watersheds provide a wide range of services to coastal communities.

Wetlands purify water and offer protection against floods. Mangroves protect coasts and their populations by reducing the damage caused by storms and tsunamis. Coral reefs provide breeding grounds for fish and leisure activities. A valuation of the 166,000 hectares of reefs off the Main Hawaiian Islands estimated the ecosystem provides US $360 million per year to the state’s economy, capturing the benefits to recreation, real estate, research, and fishing industries (Cesar and van Beukering 2004). This enormous sum does not even include the invaluable benefits of shoreline protection against natural hazards or the net present worth provided by sea life that will inhabit the reef in the future.

Natural services provided by ocean and coastal ecosystems are fundamental to the prosperity of tens of millions of people who live on American coasts and a large swath of businesses indirectly connected to coastal economies, yet they are under threat from a variety of sources. Stewardship lapses have had major economic impact on surrounding communities, resulting in the functional collapse of certain commercially valuable ecosystems, including oyster reefs, fish stocks, and mangroves.


Calculating the Costs and Benefits

In one example of profiting from ecosystem maintenance, Vietnamese communities planted and protected approximately 12,000 hectares of mangroves at a cost of US $1.1 million, saving annual expenditures on dyke maintenance of US $7.3 million. In an Apo Island, Philippines case study it was found that a one-time $75,000 investment by private sector entities in 1 km2 of coral reefs returned between $31,900 and $113,000 annually in increased fish production and local dive tourism (White, Vogt and Arin, 2000). While it typically costs more to restore a degraded ecosystem than to avoid degradation, there are, nonetheless, many cases in which the benefits from restoring degraded ecosystems far outweigh the costs.

Doing none of the above, however, leaves cities, families, and businesses at increased risk of natural disasters. While it is difficult to quantify, it is widely accepted that the loss of mangroves and reefs dramatically exacerbated Hurricane Katrina’s damage to coastal U.S. states, which some estimates peg at $81.2 bn. In India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, areas with dense coastal vegetation and healthy coral reefs were markedly less damaged by the 2004 tsunami than areas without. Where mangroves and other coastal habitats had been destroyed, often illegally, the waves were able to penetrate much further inland, destroying homes, washing away farmland and devastating people and livelihoods (Citigroup estimated the total damage in the four countries at over $15 bn).

The end result of short-sighted waste of these natural barriers is that governments and businesses are now spending billions of dollars to repair and rebuild these communities and make up for lost productivity. Ensuring our leaders are aware of all the economic costs and benefits of maintaining certain coastal ecosystems is imperative to making progress in sound community development that will last.


Working Across Sectors

Effective protection and restoration of coastal ecosystems requires the active participation of a broad cross-section of stakeholders – the engagement of communities, businesses, and NGOs is essential for success. Collaboration across sectors helps information flow that reinforces sustainable use of resources and maximizes the net social and economic benefits of natural coastal infrastructure.

By working together, policymakers and businesses can implement practices that balance business and conservation to ensure resource needs are met and prevent ecological collapses that lead to waste of public wealth.

Industry leaders and government decision makers are becoming increasingly aware that maintaining, restoring, and enhancing services provided by ecosystems, such as mangroves and wetlands, often cost significantly less than alternative man-made infrastructure, such as wastewater treatment plants and sea dykes. Municipalities are finding ways to enhance their structural and economic security by working with the private sector in these types of maintenance and protection projects. Ecosystem conservation and restoration are viable economic development options that support a range of policy goals, including food security, urban development, and poverty alleviation.

Marine organisms are integral to almost all biogeochemical processes that sustain the biosphere, and provide a variety of products and natural services which are the foundation of the global economy and essential to our well-being. They are responsible for the production of food (about 100 million tons annually) and natural substances, ingredients for biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and even the creation of land.

Marine ecosystems deliver natural services that are crucial to the balanced functioning of the Earth. These include the production and mineralization of organic material, the storage of pollutants and waste products from land, and coastal protection from natural disasters (mangroves, dune-beach systems, coral reefs).


Resistance to Invasions

Scientists are investigating how biodiversity, or a variety of different species, affects the ability of a native ecosystem to resist invasions by non-native species. They have observed that species-poor island communities are more vulnerable to invasions and that decreasing native diversity increases the ability of invaders to survive. Communities with increased diversity, on the other hand, more completely and efficiently use available space, decreasing the chance for successful invasions.


Marine Food Webs

The structure of marine ecosystems is largely defined by the relationships between predator and prey, or who eats whom. A diagram of these relationships tends to resemble a spider web, thus the term “food webs.” Interruptions in food webs are found when overfishing changes the balance of species or other stress on the ecosystem causes species reduction or extinction. This, in turn, leads to unstable ecosystems.

We are particularly concerned about overfishing on species that form the base of critical food chains -- forage fish, such as a variety of herring species, upon which cod, tuna, and other valuable fish depend. Herring have long been fished at low levels with small-scale gear to satisfy bait needs for lobster and recreational fisheries; however, they are now being fished on a far greater scale for industrial uses. When large schools of fish are scooped up, they are temporarily eliminated from fished areas, affecting other species that need them for food. To restore healthy populations of the numerous commercial fisheries species that have declined, there must be a constant adequate supply of forage fish to support their increased growth.

OCF advocates management policies that will rebuild and maintain food webs and recover healthy ecosystems that support healthy populations of commercially valuable fish.

With continued economic growth, the world's energy needs are projected to increase by 50% in about 25 years. Solutions to meet these energy requirements will necessarily involve integrating many technologies, including oil and natural gas as well as alternative energy sources.

While oceans will be play a critical role in meeting tomorrow’s energy needs, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy acts as a reminder that strict adherence to responsible safety practices is essential as we operate in ocean ecosystems. In the drive to extract the fuels to power the modern global economy, there is no need to contaminate or degrade financially valuable ecosystem services.

As we strive for energy independence, it is imperative that we do not compromise the integrity of our environment or forego their natural services as we pursue American energy sources. The American energy sector is undertaking a remarkable lead in environmental stewardship measures and is shouldering an increasing level of the responsibility in developing environmentally sensitive technologies. OCF partners with industry leaders who are working with NGOs, as well as state and local governments, to minimize environmental footprint, voluntarily develop better safety practices, and incorporate responsible resource management practices and compliance measures into daily business.

In the oil and gas sector, for example, newly developed, advanced drilling methods, such as vertical and slimhole drilling, allow for energy exploration while avoiding sensitive surface and subsurface environmental features. Additional advancements minimize waste, environmental disruption, and operational noise. API’s Rigs-to-Reefs program, for example, dismantles out-of-service offshore oil and natural gas production platforms and uses them to create artificial reefs – which become thriving habitats for thousands of marine specis. Industry savings from the program are shared with the host state’s artificial reef program. These innovations, made in the pursuit of conserving financially invaluable natural services, spur American ingenuity and strengthen our national economy.