- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

Last week, President Bush announced a comprehensive new initiative to protect our oceans and enhance ocean-science programs, putting conservation on the policy front burner for his second term.

The president’s plan includes a new Cabinet-level Committee on Oceans Policy, chaired by the Council on Environmental Quality chief, and a program to coordinate state and federal action and fund ocean research. It is an ambitious attempt to balance resource protections with the needs of millions who depend on fishing for food and work.

The oceans’ health has been the topic of several major studies in recent years, including one by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (USCOP). The USCOP recommendations and the president’s response mark a promising strategic direction for ocean protection.

Both move toward science-based ecosystem management, which means scientists, not special interests, set the overall harvests for fisheries, and that fisheries managers must respect those limits.

Both call for market-based solutions to conservation, stressing local, regional and state decisionmaking and the flexibility to address unique local conditions. Local decision-making is embodied in the Regional Fishery Management Council system under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1976. While the system has been criticized for its decentralization, the results cannot be denied. In Alaska, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has provided sustainable fisheries and protected fish habitat. Other Councils also have successfully balanced the needs of conservation and industry. All Americans should be pleased the president has encouraged continuation of this system.

Finally, both USCOP and the president’s initiative would strengthen U.S. marine research and science programs to provide statistics and other information critical for oceans conservation. Only 25 years ago, the United States began integrating biological and oceanographic research to better understand fish stocks off our coast. Funding for that work should get a significant boost under the administration’s plan. Development and execution of an Ocean Research Priorities Plan will allow for a continued high-tech international oceans observation system, coordinated ocean mapping and more than $75 million in ocean exploratory and survey vessels. We look forward to working with the administration and Congress to secure funding for these programs.

The president’s recognition of the economic importance of ocean industries is very encouraging. Some 28 million Americans depend on healthy oceans for their living. U.S. consumers spend more than $55 billion on fishery products each year. The president has offered a plan to enhance conservation and keep this economic engine running. He displayed great leadership in putting conservation on the agenda. Last week’s announcement was that rarest event in political ebb and flow: It lifted all boats.

DAVE BENTON

Executive director

The Marine Conservation Alliance.

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