Bush signs executive order on Ocean Policy

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Posted by on January 06, 2005 at 00:53:58:


On 17 December, U.S. President George W. Bush announced the creation of a Committee on Ocean Policy, "for administrative purposes only," within the White Houseís Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). By law, the President was required to respond by 20 December to the report put forward to him by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (USCOP) in a 400-page document with 212 recommendations. The Presidentís Ocean Committee, to be led by CEQ Chairman James Connaughton, will be made up of leaders and staff from 18 agencies and departments, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Interior Department (includes U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Minerals Management Service), the Commerce Department (includes the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service), the Defense Department's Joint Chiefs of Staff, and assistants to the President for National Security Affairs, Homeland Security (includes the U.S. Coast Guard) and economic policy. In the Executive Order, the Committee is to:

  1. coordinate the activities of executive departments and agencies regarding ocean-related matters in an integrated and effective manner to advance the environmental, economic, and security interests of present and future generations of Americans; and
  2. facilitate, as appropriate, coordination and consultation regarding ocean-related matters among Federal, State, tribal, local governments, the private sector, foreign governments, and international organizations."

A key recommendation made by USCOP was to consolidate national ocean management responsibilities within the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and boost federal marine research funding. The White Houseís "U.S. Ocean Action Plan," however, does not include proposals to consolidate authority within NOAA or move that agency toward independence, as the Commission had called for. Although the Presidentís plan calls for more ocean research, high-tech buoys, submerged vessels and floating laboratories to measure water conditions and study marine life, the only new funding announced was $2.7 million that will be requested in the fiscal 2006 budget to support reef preservation projects offshore Florida, Hawaii and U.S. principalities in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. That is a far cry from a doubling of ocean spending called for in the USCOP and Pew Ocean Commission reports.

Moreover, in the announcement of the Presidentís Executive Order creating an Ocean Committee, Connaughton did not say whether the Bush Administration would ultimately implement another key proposal of USCOP that federal revenues from oil and gas development on the outer continental shelf (OCS) be used for ocean protection and research efforts, saying no decision had been made. The trust fund is not contained in the action plan, "and Connaughton appeared to cast doubt on the idea, saying OCS revenues that flow into the treasury currently fund a range of worthy efforts, including AIDS research," reported Greenwire.

The Administrationís "Ocean Action Plan" received mixed results when it was announced. Prior to the announcement on the 17th, there were reports the White House was simply going to ignore the USCOP report and stiff-arm the recommendations made by it, as well as similar ones made earlier by the Pew Oceans Commission . "For the President and the administration to recognize there is a crisis in the oceans is an important step," former California Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, told the Washington Post. "One can quarrel with the [details], but I have to look at this as a good first step." Panetta chaired the Pew Oceans Commission. The announcement also won praise from Dave Benton, who heads the Marine Conservation Alliance, a coalition of Alaskan fishing groups. "We want regional solutions, with a federal system that is more coordinated and organized, and it sounds like that's the direction the President is going," said Benton.

The lack of specificity, as well as the failure to propose funding at the levels recommended or develop a trust fund to assure adequate fiscal support for ocean programs, garnered a great deal of criticism from other quarters. Among fishermen even the few specifics included in the administrationís proposal have drawn fire. In the area of fisheries, the Bush Administration is pushing individual fishing quotas as a "catch-all" solution for sustainable fisheries management. "We will pursue innovative eco-system based approaches that are market-based, including individual fishing quota (IFQ) programs that will help us recover and sustain our fisheries," said Connaughton in an op-ed. This is being proposed even though there are no national standards currently in place to assure such systems achieve conservation, or are even fair or effective, although the White House says it will support IFQ national standards legislation in the 109th Congress. Legislation to establish national standards for IFQs languished in the last Congress, (e.g., the Allen-Delahunt "Fishing Quota Standards Act"), in part due to a lack of support from the Administration.

On the CEQ website describing the "Ocean Action Plan," the Administration highlights many policies that it already has in place, citing advances in salmon recovery and rebounding fish stocks. However, the White House recently rolled back protection for 90 percent of the critical habitat for endangered Pacific Coast salmon, it has refused to consider dam removal at all in any salmon recovery or even change dam operations, it has refused to provide flows critical for salmon survival in the Klamath River basin, it is seeking to further reduce flows needed by salmon in the Central Valley, and it has refused to fight a scheme by developers to count hatchery salmon for purposes of eliminating protection for threatened wild stocks. Nor does the website point out that only 10 percent of all fish stocks managed by the federal government have been fully assessed by scientists and determined to be healthy.

The Bush Administrationís "Ocean Action Plan" further proposes to "advance offshore aquaculture" with language in the Ocean Plan (at p. 23) sounding much like that in the current draft legislation NOAA has been quietly circulating and the rhetoric surrounding it (e.g., "$7 billion seafood deficit"). The Administration plans to propose a "National Offshore Aquaculture Act" in the new Congress granting the Commerce Department (i.e., NOAA), authority to regulate the activity and to "empower the Department of Commerce to assist the private sector in obtaining necessary Federal agency approval for establishing an offshore aquaculture facility."

Included, too, in the Presidentís "Ocean Action Plan" aquaculture section is a proposal to support "Aquaculture in the Americas." According to the plan in 2005, "working with Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) partners, the Administration will support two workshops in South America to promote sustainable aquaculture and the development of an aquaculture network in the Americas." What the White House fails to say here is that two aquacultured products -- farmed salmon and farmed shrimp -- are responsible for the so-called U.S. "seafood deficit" and much of that comes from Central America, Brazil and Chile. These aquaculture operations, mostly owned by large multi-national corporations, have displaced traditional artisanal fisheries in those nations, and the import flood of those products has nearly bankrupted shrimp and salmon fishermen in the U.S. Moreover, the forms of aquaculture being considered actually diminish the amount of edible protein available, not increase it. The proposal in the plan to advance offshore aquaculture raises the question as to whose side is the Bush Administration on?

"The Administration is either delusional or deceiving the American people if it thinks it can protect our oceans and preserve our fisheries with gimmicks like IFQs and offshore fish farms, touting failed policies and unwilling to establish a trust fund to support necessary research, conservation and management," said PCFFA Executive Director Zeke Grader. The Presidentís Executive Order can be found online at: www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/12/20041217-5.html. A pdf copy of the Administrationís 41-page "Ocean Action Plan" is at: ocean.ceq.gov/actionplan.pdf. The Washington Post editorial, "At Sea Over Oceans" is at: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A20988-2004Dec22.html.

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