Farr co-authors sweeping ocean bill
July 25, 2004
SANTA CRUZ, CA ó In an attempt to put recommendations from a mammoth oceans study into practice, a group of congressmen that included U.S. Rep. Sam Farr introduced a bill this week that would overhaul how the nationís seas are managed.
The bill, nicknamed "Oceans 21," was filed late Thursday and would establish a cabinet-level "National Oceans Advisor" in the presidentís office, set up a national oceans council to coordinate policies and bolster research and education about the sea.
The law mirrors the recommendations made in a draft report by the U.S. Oceans Commission released earlier this year and a Pew Commission report released last year. Both reports categorized the ocean as sick, suffering from human impacts, global warming and in some cases over-fishing.
The goal of the bill is to streamline the hodgepodge of ocean laws and agencies overseeing them, backers said.
The bill would emphasize ecosystem management, calling for management that accounts for activities on land that affect the ocean and accounting for all the plants and animals that live in areas of the sea.
Other features of the bill include:
# Explicitly establishing the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, into law. The multiple-tasked agency now exist only by executive order.
# Establishing a dedicated research program on marine ecosystems.
Programs would be funded with offshore oil and gas revenues.
The bill skirts the controversial issue of fisheries management, leaving regional fisheries councils that now dictate commercial fishing rules to operate as they are. But the law could provide framework for future changes in how fisheries are managed.
"You work those things out with federal regulations," Farr said.
The Monterey Bay region could see some benefits from the bill as it calls for more spending on marine research and education. There are more than 20 research institutions that dot the bay.
Environmentalist hailed the bill, saying it was time to act.
"It gives the (Bush) administration the tool to implement a national, cohesive ocean strategy," said Jane DeLay, executive director of Save Our Shores. "Weíll urge Congress to support it at all levels."
Half Moon Bay fishermen Pietro Parravano, who served on both studies, said changes are needed to preserve the fishing industry.
"Fishing is Americaís oldest industry, but it doesnít have much of a future unless we begin taking steps to better protect and better manage our ocean waters and land-use activities that impact coastal ecosystems," he said. "This means establishing an effective governance structure, conducting research and improving understanding of the oceans and their resources. It means protecting against ocean pollution, habitat destruction, coastal sprawl, the threats of global warming and aquaculture as well as making sure our fisheries are conducted in a sustainable manner."
Farr conceded it is unlikely the bill will be successful this year. Congress has few weeks left until it recesses in October prior to the November elections. Congress is coping with spending bills, and people up for election are likely to avoid anything that could be controversial.
"The irony is this isnít controversial," Farr said.
The bill, H.R. 4900, was also sponsored by U.S. Reps. James Greenwood, R-Penn., Tom Allen, D-Maine, and Cru Weldon, R-Penn.
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