What Really Happened at Capitol Hill Oceans Week?

Capitol Hill Oceans Week 2014, hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, once again brought together marine professionals, government officials and ocean advocates to discuss the most current and pressing marine issues. Affectionately called CHOW, this conference provides an opportunity to network with other conservationists and share ideas of how to support and advance ocean policy, all in the heart of Washington, DC.

To kick off CHOW, John Podesta, Counselor to President Obama, delivered the opening keynote speech, aiming to reinforce support for the United States’ National Ocean Policy while promoting the importance of a resilient ocean for climate change challenges. He emphasized the need for sustainable fisheries and acknowledged “black-market” or illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing as an important global threat.

Podesta encouraged the establishment of more marine protected areas, including monuments and sanctuaries, and shared the much-welcomed news that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is finalizing a rule to reopen the sanctuary nomination and evaluation process. This action allows Americans to nominate ocean and Great Lakes areas as national sanctuaries, providing an “opportunity to galvanize people to protect their local areas.”

Increasing the scale and scope of marine protected areas, both in the United States and internationally, is critical to safeguard marine life against climate change and destructive fishing practices (a point highlighted in our major Global Ocean Refuge System initiative). Panelists, including Catherine Novelli of the State Department, highlighted the importance of marine protected areas to preserve the biodiversity of our oceans, ensure healthy reefs that protect coastlines and promote travel and tourism.  Considering our organization’s focus on marine protected areas, we enjoyed the opportunity to share and build on ideas with others, including scientists who have signed on to our marine reserves support letter (if you haven’t yet signed on, the letter can be found here).

Sustainable fisheries were also highlighted throughout CHOW, through discussions on the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management and Conservation Act (MSA) reauthorization and on black-market fishing. A “Future of American Fisheries” panel brought together members of the fishing industry and fisheries scientists that collectively affirmed that the MSA to date has successfully enabled the rebuilding of 34 critical fish stocks since 2000. Additionally, the panel expressed support in continuing the proper management of our fisheries, for future food security and sustainable fisheries worldwide.

There was also widespread agreement that the detrimental practice of black-market fishing is one of the biggest and most important issues the marine community needs to address. Increased transparency and traceability of the seafood supply, vessel identification numbers and electronic observer systems were just a few of the potential tools that were proposed to combat illegal fishing. As the United States is the second largest importer of seafood, our country’s actions to reduce black-market fishing will have ramifications world-wide.

If you are interested in hearing more about CHOW’s outcomes, videos of each presentation will be available soon through OceansLive.

Lindsay Jennings and Ximena Escovar-Fadul contributed to this blog. 

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