U.S. Is Urged to Overhaul Its Approach to Protecting Oceans

June 4. 2003

By Andrew C. Revkin
New York Times

Washington, D.C. - A private commission including scientists, fishermen and elected officials called today for big changes in federal ocean policies to curb harm to America's marine resources from coastal building, polluted runoff and what the panel described as destructive fishing practices.

The group, the Pew Oceans Commission, urged the Bush administration and Congress to develop legislation creating a single agency for oceans and consolidating what is now, it said, a fragmented "hodgepodge of narrow laws" administered by a host of agencies.

"Without reform, our daily actions will increasingly jeopardize a valuable natural resource and an invaluable aspect of our national heritage," the commission concluded in its report, which is available online at www.pewoceans.org.

The report was hailed by environmental campaigners and scientists who have noted similar maritime harm around the world, but was attacked by organizations representing fleets of big trawlers, whose practices it sharply criticized.

Some of the most significant problems cited in the report were the continuing damage to coral and other seabed life from bottom-scouring trawls, along with such nets' wasted "bycatch" of unpopular or undersize fish, which die as a result and are discarded.

The commission recommended a moratorium on trawling in areas that have not yet been fished, until an assessment at each of the possible effects on marine life.

"This would shift the burden of proof and require the extractive industries to prove there's no harm, or at least minimal harm, before they trawl," said one commission member, Roger T. Rufe, Jr., a retired Coast Guard vice admiral.

Another serious problem, the report said -- and one that has eluded effective regulation -- is the diffuse but extensive runoff from agriculture, lawns and roads. Oil and other contaminants pooling at gas stations and in parking lots build up in sea life, the panel noted. Further, nutrients from fields unbalance ecosystems and sometimes cause vast quantities of marine life to die off; the so-called dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi has been attributed in part to such runoff.

The commission, financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts, had 18 members, among them Gov. George E. Pataki of New York. Its chairman was former Representative Leon E. Panetta of California, chief of staff in the Clinton White House, who said at a news briefing today that he hoped the panel's recommendations would be taken up by a government commission created by Congress three years ago to study all marine-related federal policies. The report of that commission, whose expertise mainly involves the mineral resources beneath the sea rather than the living resources inhabiting it, is due this year.

The Pew commission spent two years meeting with people in maritime communities from Hawaii to Maine. It concluded that the country's major marine regions could best be preserved by establishing "regional ecosystem councils,"
representing an array of viewpoints, that would produce enforceable plans suited to local conditions.

It also called for a national network of marine reserves where fishing would be banned. Recent research has shown that such reserves can act as nurseries that then bolster fish populations in nearby waters.

Some operators of fishing boats criticized the report's proposals. Robert Lane, who owns two trawlers berthed in New Bedford, Mass., said the panel's criticism of trawling was unfounded. He noted that recent federal reports showed
that many fish and shellfish on George's Banks, the once-decimated fishing grounds off New England, were rebounding.

The two fishermen on the commission, neither of whom works in trawling, represent a small subset of the industry, said Mr. Lane, a director of the Trawlers Survival Fund, a group of boat owners in southern New England. "They've set
fisherman against fisherman and are bashing one particular type of fishing," he said. He said he agreed with the points that the report made about pollution and coastal environmental damage.

One fisherman on the panel, Pietro Parravano, defended the report and said that far from being a threat to fishing, adoption of its proposals would help maintain commercial harvests. "There's nothing here that mandates a restriction in fishing," said Mr. Parravano, who fishes for crab, salmon and rockfish out of Half Moon Bay, Calif., and is the president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "What it does is encourage the sustainable use of fishing."

(Note: PCFFA: the name implies that they are a real fisherman's group, but none of our contacts in Oregon or California can find any real fishermen that are members/board members.)


Report Calls for New U.S. Oceans Agency - 'Urban sprawl' threatens oceans?

June 4, 2003

By Sue Pleming

Washington, D.C. (Reuters) - Overfishing, invasive species, pollution and urban sprawl threaten the oceans off America, according to a report released on Wednesday that called for a new federal agency to manage the country's troubled waters.

In a review of U.S. ocean policy, the report by the Pew Oceans Commission said marine life and vital coastal habitats were straining under the pressure of increased use and that a "hodgepodge" of laws was doing little to protect them.

"For centuries we have viewed the oceans as beyond our ability to harm and their bounty beyond our ability to deplete. We now know that this is not true," said Leon Panetta, chair of the commission that produced the report and former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.

The root cause of the crisis was government's failure to manage the oceans off America and to recognize how activities on land affect coastal ecosystems, said the commission, which was sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust.

The three-year study of 4.5 million square miles of ocean waters called for a new independent agency to oversee a national oceans policy.

"There needs to be a strong independent national agency," said Roger Rufe of the environmental group The Ocean Conservancy, who was one of the 18 commissioners.

Other recommendations included the creation of regional ocean ecosystem councils and a national system to fully protect marine reserves.

Rufe said one of the most pressing problems was the huge growth in industrialized fishing. "Fish are further out at sea and they (anglers) can use high-tech gear to locate fish. There's no place in the ocean for a fish to hide," he said.

Many species, including ground fish and salmon along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, faced overfishing and 30 percent of fish populations were assessed as being overfished or not sustainable at current fishing levels, it said.

Coastal development and associated sprawl were endangering coastal wetlands and estuaries, according to the report, which said that every eight months nearly 11 million gallons of oil ran off streets and driveways into U.S. waters.

In addition, more than 60 percent of coastal rivers and bays were moderately to severely degraded by nitrogen runoff from sources such as fertilizers.

One of the worst cases was in the Gulf of Mexico, where a "dead zone" the size of Massachusetts emerged each summer because of a lack of oxygen in the water.

Another problem cited was invasive species crowding out native species and altering habitat and food webs.

One example was in the San Francisco Bay where more than 175 non-native species were thriving at the expense of local ones.

A presidential panel, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, is also expected to release a report later this year.

(Note: Roger Rufe, one of the 18 commission members, makes two false statements: "There needs to be a strong
independent national agency," -- which is language deception, alluding to the agency having any 'independence' -- and " ... There's no place in the ocean for a fish to hide." This is false, since so much of the oceans have been declared
off-limits for fishing due to the ESA.)


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