- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

Ocean wilderness areas, officially known as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), were debated recently by a panel of marine scientists and federal agency administrators during a subcommittee hearing in the House.
Rep. Collin Peterson, Minnesota Democrat, stressed the need for clear guidelines on the use of MPAs to protect the public's access to coastal waters. Peterson has sponsored legislation to this effect entitled the Freedom to Fish Act (H.R. 3547). The bill enjoys strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate, where Sens. John Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, introduced companion legislation (S. 1314).
Representatives from the Department of Commerce and Department of Interior, which share jurisdiction for managing much of the U.S. marine resources, said that "ecologically sustainable use" should be protected. They pointed out that conservation and sustainable use are not mutually exclusive concepts. The officials stressed that MPAs are among their fishery management tools and that any decision to institute ocean closures must involve significant public involvement and support.
Gordon Robertson, vice president of the American Sportfishing Association, called these statements "reassuring" and "perfectly in line with what the recreational fishing community has been saying all along." He noted that recreational anglers land only 2 percent of all marine fish taken and yet support much of the tab for fisheries management through the payment of excise taxes and license fees.
Edward Houde, chairman of the National Research Council's Committee on Marine Protected Areas, told the subcommittee, "We're not yet ready for large marine reserve networks." Houde said more scientific research is needed before establishing closed areas.
Robert Shipp, Marine Sciences chairman at the University of South Alabama, released a report last month indicating that MPAs were largely unnecessary for the management of most recreational fish stocks.
"I am not against the use of MPAs in certain cases and, in fact, I voted in favor of the Dry Tortugas closure while chair of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council," Shipp said. "However, as a fishery management tool, 'No-Take' MPAs are not as efficient as traditional management measures such as size limits, catch restrictions and temporary closed seasons."
Gene Mueller

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