Oceans Protection Bill Introduced in U.S. Congress

WASHINGTON, DC, January 4, 2007 (ENS) - As the 110th Congress opened today with Democrats in control of the House and the Senate for the first time in 12 years, a bipartisan oceans protection bill was introduced in the House of Representatives.

HR-21, the Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act, is known as Oceans-21. It would establish a comprehensive National Oceans Policy and guiding principles for use and management of U.S. coasts, oceans, and Great Lakes and their resources.


A winter sunset from the Pensacola Beach fishing pier, Pensacola, Florida (Photo by Jim Edds courtesy NOAA)
Oceans-21 was introduced by Congressman Sam Farr, a California Democrat who is a co-chair of the bipartisan House Ocean Caucus, made up of over 50 members who represent coastal areas.

He was joined on the bill by fellow caucus members, Congressmen Tom Allen, a Maine Democrat; and Republicans Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Jim Saxton of New Jersey.

"Though our oceans are critical to our survival, they are in trouble," said Farr. "On this first day of Congress, we're taking an important first step with Oceans-21 to present a vision for a strong oceans governance policy, based on our better understanding of how our oceans work."


Congressman Sam Farr of California co-chairs the House Oceans Caucus. (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)
Oceans-21 is the product of several years of effort within the House to draft bipartisan and comprehensive legislation.

It would implement key recommendations of the Congressionally mandated U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the report of the nonprofit Pew Oceans Commission.

First introduced in the 108th Congress to begin a national dialogue on America's coasts and oceans, the bill has now been revised based on input from the oceans and fishing communities.

The legislation would authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA. This federal agency was created in 1970 by executive order of President Richard Nixon, but it has never been authorized by Congress. Its many programs are often underfunded.


Congressman Jim Saxton is a member of the House Oceans Caucus. (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)
"The federal government must come together to create a coordinated, national approach to ocean policy," said Congressman Saxton, a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and its Fisheries Conservation and Oceans Subcommittee.

"The road to developing a national ocean policy should be flexible, bipartisan and goal-oriented. Congress must find a means to address both the conservation and commerce aspects of ocean issues. Oceans-21 is a step in the right direction," Saxton said.

Oceans-21 would establish an Oceans and Great Lakes Conservation Trust Fund. It builds upon existing regional initiatives to act as a clearinghouse for federal, state, and local governments to address management needs at an ecosystem scale.

"Our hope is that regional ocean partnerships, which include a fair representation of all affected stakeholders, will lead to better, more integrated management that reflects regional goals and priorities, balances the needs of competing industries, and eases coordinated, collaborative response to regional issues," said Congressman Allen.


Pelicans and containership ship seen from near Fort Moultrie, Sullivans Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Captain Albert Theberge courtesy NOAA)
Conservationists who recognize the stresses on ocean ecosystems support the measure. “Recent scientific studies have documented the precipitous decline of our oceans as a result of overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction, said Sarah Chasis, director of NRDC’s Oceans Initiative. “This legislation will protect and restore the health of our oceans, which we depend on for food, jobs, recreation, and a way of life."

"Representatives Farr, Allen, Saxton and Gilchrest have demonstrated the importance of ocean health by introducing this key bill in the first hours of the new Congress and we look forward to working with them to turn this bill into law," said Chasis.

"Historically, we have not invested in our oceans and Great Lakes in a manner that reflects their importance to our economy and the well-being of our citizens, and their condition is of great concern - the decline of coastal water quality, the decline of fisheries, explosions of harmful invasive species, and other alarming ocean trends are signaling their distress," said Congressman Gilchrest.

"Oceans-21 is a start for what I believe will be an intelligent and deliberative process to create responsive national oceans policy, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Oceans Caucus," Gilchrest said.

"Our oceans are truly Planet Earth's last frontier, the source of food and other critical resources, the arteries of international commerce and the life's blood of what has been called our big, blue marble," said Congressman Allen. "Oceans-21 seeks to foster better stewardship of these precious resources."