Alexandria Resident Changing the Course of Our Oceans

by Kevin Dauray

Recent national news coverage has placed a spotlight on the declining health of waterways around the globe as a result of numerous factors, including global warming and improper waste disposal. Locally, there is more positive news to report.

Oceana, a worldwide organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of our oceans and their inhabitants remains at the forefront of efforts to impede, and even reverse, the current direction of a certainly troubling development.

Beth Lowell (Photo: Oceana)

At its headquarters in Downtown D.C., Oceana’s Beth Lowell, who serves as the deputy vice president of U.S. campaigns, remains committed to conservation efforts.

Oceana “works to protect the oceans by executing campaigns with distinct time-bound goals that will result in real change in the water,” she says.

In a career that has spanned more than twenty years and focused on environmental concerns, Lowell has worked for Oceana since 2005. For the past eight years, she has led efforts to combat seafood fraud, which led to the creation of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in January 2018.

The program requires that thirteen types of imported seafood have key information, similar to what U.S. fishermen are required to report, such as the specific fish caught, who caught it, and where and how it was caught (or whether it was farmed). The seafood must also be traced from the fishing boat or farm to to the U.S. border.

Seafood fraud is a global problem: It has been studied and found all over the world. Oceana is leading the way by exposing seafood fraud through extensive DNA testing and in campaigning for policy change that would put in place traceability requirements that would result in fish being tracked from boat to plate in order to bring transparency to the seafood supply chain, help prevent seafood mislabeling and fraud and stamp out markets for illegally fished products. (Photo: denstormerpresents)

An example of fraud Lowell shared is that of a consumer believing he or she is purchasing wild-caught red snapper and instead receiving farmed tilapia. In trials around the country, Oceana scientists discovered that more than one-third of the seafood they tested was mislabeled. She stresses that though she oversees the program, it really is a team effort involving many, many people. During the push for regulation, lawyers conducted hours of research as they searched for ways to end the deception. Communications representatives were tasked with notifying the public about the issue. Even volunteers spoke up for policy change.

Lowell’s other accomplishments include participating in efforts to cease the shark fin trade and offshore drilling, as well as advocating for and defending core environmental laws with community leaders.

Lowell releasing a sea turtle, healed from injury, back into the wild. (Photo: Oceana)

Spending her childhood in Maine, Lowell developed a fondness for being near the water at a very early age, and as she grew, so did her passion for it. She has fond memories of growing up near the rocky coastline, taking short walks to the sandy beaches, smelling the salty air, and tasting great seafood. She admits that “it wasn’t until I moved away that I truly realized how lucky I was.” To this day, she has a deep respect for not only the sea itself, but the fishermen who depend upon it to make their living and support their families.

Though her work is often rewarding, it has proven to be a challenge when, for instance, a bill fails to pass or when “groups don’t see eye-to-eye,” Lowell explained . During frustrating times, she remembers that change does not come easily or happen quickly, and it is absolutely crucial to recognize small victories which set the path for long-term goals.

“At the end of the day, it’s incredibly gratifying to work beside passionate people doing impactful work in ocean conservation and preserving the oceans for generations to come,” Lowell states.

When asked how she thinks the work being done at this moment will impact the future of conservation, Lowell emphasized that she is certain Oceana’s efforts are making a positive change. Since the organization’s founding in 2001, it has secured more than 200 victories and worked to protect more than 4.5 million square miles of ocean. Lowell encourages her fellow Alexandrians “to get involved and learn more about our campaign by visiting oceana.org and following us on social media.”