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Legislation aims to save oceans
Scripps Howard News Service


June 09, 2005

Washington - Responding to reports that the world's oceans are in distress, lawmakers in Congress took the first steps Thursday toward what supporters described as a comprehensive approach toward protecting marine resources and habitat.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., filed legislation that calls for the most significant overhaul of U.S. ocean policy in more than a quarter-century.

The bill would create a council whose mission would be to protect the oceans. The measure also would authorize grants to local communities to restore fisheries and coastal areas; require the development of plans to protect and sustain fish populations; and provide funding for state and local governments to reduce marine pollution and increase ocean monitoring.

"Our oceans are one of our greatest natural resources, and right now they are in serious danger," Boxer said. "We must commit ourselves as trustees of our oceans to take action before they are damaged beyond repair."

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., introduced similar legislation in the House.

"Now is the time for Congress to act," said Farr, co-chairman of the House Oceans Caucus. "We can't wait. Time is of the essence. The oceans are suffering."

The bills include many of the recommendations of two blue ribbon ocean commissions _ the congressionally chartered U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission _ that issued reports in the past two years.

Both reports said urgent action is needed to restore the United States' marine resources before environmental degradation reaches a point of no return.

Boxer's bill, called the National Oceans Protection Act of 2005, is supported by 129 environmental organizations and individuals, including Philippe Cousteau, the grandson of famed oceanographer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau.

Cousteau, president and cofounder of the environmental watchdog group EarthEcho International, attended a news conference in Washington on Thursday and recalled hearing his grandfather's stories of getting his first glimpse of the ocean off the coast of France and taking his first breath under water.

The grandson, himself a diver, said he has seen firsthand the signs of ocean degradation.

"We are finally waking up to the truth," he said. "... The oceans are at a critical juncture. But it's not too late."

Earlier this week, the Bush administration unveiled legislation that would allow marine aquaculture, or fish farming, in federal waters up to 200 miles off the nation's coasts. Administration officials described the proposal as an effort to deal with one of the major concerns raised in the ocean commission's report _ the need to replenish depleted fish stocks.

Critics, however, warned that the legislation does not adequately address environmental concerns associated with fish farming, including the discharge of tons of waste and the use of pesticides, antibiotics and other potentially harmful chemicals.

Boxer said she, too, has major concerns about the administration's proposal. Under her bill, the federal government would be prohibited from issuing permits for aquaculture until strong national standards and regulations are in place to protect fish stocks from parasites and invasive species.

Another provision in Boxer's bill would make the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration an independent agency. The agency now falls under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Department.

In addition, Boxer's legislation would create "Coral Management Areas" to protect ecologically important coral areas; set individual fishing quotas to protect against bycatch and overfishing; and require that all activities in the Outer Continental Shelf, such as bioextraction and wind and wave energy projects, receive a federal permit to ensure that they aren't a danger to marine health.

While the House bill has bipartisan support, Boxer said no Senate Republicans have signed on as cosponsors of her legislation and that she has no commitment from GOP lawmakers to give the bill a hearing.

Her strategy, she said, is to get portions of the bill enacted if the entire legislation stalls.

"These are contentious times," she said, referring to the political climate in Washington. "There's not much we can rally around. But one would hope that we can rally around saving our oceans."


Reach Michael Collins at collinsm(at)

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