Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2019 tackled the growing challenges of fisheries, health, and conservation facing our ocean and the Great Lakes

June is not only a time for vacationing on the beach but also for celebrating the amazing and beautiful world ocean. Officially marked National Ocean Month, what better way to celebrate than with an official Ocean Week and even an Ocean Day. This past week, NAMEPA had the opportunity to attend Capitol Hill Ocean Week, better known as CHOW, joining scientists, politicians, educators, business people, and other stakeholders in an urgent and multifaceted dialogue about taking action to protect our ocean and Great Lakes.

Hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, almost two decades have passed since CHOW started as a short, day-long conference. This week, the 19th annual CHOW began on Monday, June 3, with an Anacostia River boat tour hosted by the DC Department of Energy and Environment and Anacostia Riverkeeper and ends on Saturday, June 8, with two volunteer events to restore local marine environments. Yet, the most important work took place on Tuesday and Wednesday during the CHOW Conference when lectures and breakout sessions allowed participants to delve more deeply into marine conservation issues and the looming challenges we face nationally and globally.

This year’s CHOW conference was divided into four major tracks: grand challenges in the ocean and Great Lakes, oceans and human health, sustainable fisheries, and conserving wildlife. The most importance was placed on the discussions regarding grand challenges which included four plenary talks about harmful effects disrupting our ocean, transforming the global seafood market, emerging leaders, and powering our future. The other three talks were divided into break out sessions, giving guests the opportunity to follow one thread of similar conversations or pick and choose by engaging in conversations across the board.

Dr. Sarah Cooley moderates a conversation among Dr. Andrew Pershing, Dr. John Bruno, Ms. Ko Barrett, Dr. Marcia McNutt, and Mr. David Victor about the major issues facing our ocean and disrupting marine ecosystems.
Dr. Sarah Cooley moderates a conversation among Dr. Andrew Pershing, Dr. John Bruno, Ms. Ko Barrett, Dr. Marcia McNutt, and Mr. David Victor about the major issues facing our ocean and disrupting marine ecosystems.

The topic of seafood and sustainable fisheries dominated much of the dialogue that took place during the conference. During “Transforming the Global Seafood Market,” Heather Ludemann from the Packard Foundation sat down with four distinct and diverse stakeholders: Ms. Patima Tungpuchayakul, Founder of Labor Rights Protection Network; Ms. Teresa Ish, Program Officer of the Walton Family Foundation’s Environment Program; Mr. Troy Knapp, Executive Chef at Park Hyatt Washington; and Mr. Richard Stavis, Chief Sustainability Officer of Stavis Seafoods. This unique combination of individuals allowed for a discussion about changing the food supply chain and veering towards more sustainable fishing practices while taking into consideration human rights, consumers choices, selling fish, and cooking meals that include seafood. Complementary breakout sessions focused on addressing the US seafood deficit, combating illegal and unregulated fishing, building resilient fishing communities, and recreational fishing.

However, the conversation did not stop at the walls of the auditorium. In the hallway, governmental organizations like BOEM and NOAA sat beside nongovernmental organizations like the Healthy Oceans Coalition and the International Fund for Animal Welfare with exhibitions displaying flyers and programs to share with the other guests. This exhibition hall afforded attendees the exciting opportunity to meet with other individuals that had common goals and learn more about their work—and maybe even find a way for them to collaborate in the future. With so many stakeholders with interests and concerns related to the ocean, networking was an essential part of CHOW that served to strengthen the marine conservation community.

Yet, all of this conversation is not meant to sit dormant but to inspire action. Several members of Congress spoke at the conference and voiced their concerns about problems like melting ice, acidification, and rising temperatures that are creating massive marine conservation issues. Many of them talked about policies they had proposed to mitigate some of the problems at hand and prioritize conservation, including Rep. Chellie Pingree’s (D-ME) bipartisan bill to study ocean acidification, H.R. 2719, and Rep. Michael T. McCaul’s (R-TX) bill to ban the sale and purchase of shark fins in the US, H.R. 737.

In fact, during CHOW, the House passed four bills to address ocean acidification. That legislation is now on its way to the Senate where it will be further discussed. Thus, directly following the conference on June 6, CHOW hosted “Hill Day,” during which the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation provided the opportunity for guests to engage in a morning panel with congressional staff and encouraged them to make appointments with their representatives following the panel to voice their support for policy that values marine conservation.

As an organization that values the views of many stakeholders in the shipping and conservation industries, NAMEPA was honored to take part in a conference like CHOW that unites diverse individuals and invites them to share their perspective when it comes to ocean issues. From politicians and lawyers to marine biologists and oceanographers to chefs and fishers, everyone has different needs from our ocean, yet we are united by a common love and respect for it. Only by igniting dialogue that takes a multidisciplinary and view inclusive approach will we find the best solutions for the major issues affecting our the vast blue ocean we rely on so profoundly.

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