“The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life,” President Theodore Roosevelt told Congress in 1907.
A century later, President Bush literally looked over his shoulder at a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt that hangs in the White House as he shocked and awed his environmental critics by announcing earlier this month the establishment of the world’s largest marine conservation area. The new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument will safeguard a remote, biologically rich string of islands, submerged lands and their surrounding waters, totaling over 84 million acres — 38 times the size of Yellowstone Park.
This monument is an extraordinary victory for the environment and for the recognition of Native Hawaiian traditional and cultural practices, unparalleled in history. It’s the result of 100,000 letters and 100 public meetings generated by a Hawaii-based network, or hui, of native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, commercial, recreational and subsistence fishers, kupuna (elders), divers, dedicated researchers and local environmentalists with a national and international reach. However, the need for public input is not over. Continued public involvement will be of vital importance to ensure the creation of strong regulations and an appropriate management plan. Securing funding for strong enforcement and to support the newly expanded role of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be crucial to ensure that these visionary protections do indeed protect this special place forever.
However, the story is actually even bigger than the headline-grabbing pro-environmental action. In his remarks announcing the new monument, President Bush outlined a common sense approach that will “halt the steady decline of our nation’s oceans and coasts” described by his U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and secure a bright future for sportsmen, nature watchers and seafood lovers.
This approach has three parts.
1) Establish clear ground rules for how recreational and commercial fishing should be conducted. That is what the Senate-passed bill to reauthorize our federal fisheries management law — known as the Magnuson-Stevens Act — would accomplish.
2) Align incentives so that ocean conservation can make good business sense. The president and the Senate are committed to implementing a market-based system of fishing quotas in which fishermen and communities can have a stake in creating a sustainable supply of fish. This is a step in the right direction.
3) Protect important areas of the ocean. That is what the president has done by establishing the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands monument. As the president said in his speech, “Our duty is to use the land and seas wisely, or sometimes not use them at all.” Setting aside areas to serve as sanctuaries for ocean life can help recharge depleted fisheries, recover the lost bounty of oceans, preserve and restore habitats, provide important places for research, and allow us to pass on a better ocean to our children and grandchildren.
President Bush’s action demonstrated a genuine understanding of the huge opportunity we have to reverse generations of decline in our oceans. But time is short. The president and Congress need to take a number of crucial steps.
The president should lobby the House of Representatives to pass the Senate-passed version of the Magnuson-Stevens bill, so he can sign it immediately. Already five years overdue, it is time to update our national fisheries law.
Congress needs to overhaul the proposed Senate legislation governing offshore fish farming, the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2005. The current bill would establish flawed ground rules and economic incentives that hurt, not help, ocean stewardship. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California have shown the way with a state law that delivers what the president asked for: fish farming that can provide a “healthy source of food and reduce pressure on the ocean ecosystems.”
It’s time to put ocean management on a sound economic footing. The president’s Ocean Commission and the Pew Oceans Commission called for a new ocean business plan, one that provides adequate resources for research, enforcement and, where needed, assistance to fishing communities and sportsmen to help them manage better. Yet, neither the president nor Congress has acted on this recommendation.
The president’s action is a late, but warmly welcomed start on ocean stewardship. He has two and a half years left before he leaves office. Teddy Roosevelt fit 18 National Monuments and many other conservation actions into that length of time. In other words, it’s not too late for President Bush to create a legacy that our grandparents will talk about with their grandkids while baiting a hook, putting a fish on the grill or enjoying the exotic beauty of wild ocean denizens.
Jane Lubchenco, the Valley professor of marine biology at Oregon State University, served on the Pew Oceans Commission and is a member of the Joint Oceans Commission Initiative. David Festa is the oceans program director for Environmental Defense and served during the Clinton administration as director of policy and strategic planning at the Department of Commerce.